Photo: Assiniboine Credit Union distributed food and hygiene items to several community organizations delivering essential services during the pandemic. Photo submitted by Assiniboin Credit Union.
As we close out 2020, a year plagued by unprecedented changes to how we work, gather and engage with our communities, we connected with several Winnipeg-based organizations to learn how their operations, services and sectors have been impacted by COVID-19.
These stories and others can be found in 2020 Our City: A Peg Report on COVID-19 and Well-Being Indicators to Watch, a report focused on our well-being entering 2020 and the immediate changes Winnipeg is experiencing as a result of COVID-19.
Resource Assistance for Youth
Peg theme: Basic Needs
Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY) is a nonprofit street-level agency working with street-entrenched, marginalized, and homeless youth.
Kelly Holmes, Executive Director, Resource Assistance for Youth:
“For youth experiencing homelessness, the pandemic exacerbated existing barriers and created new ones—from social distancing and handwashing requirements to the avoidance of the shelter system, resulting in an explosion of encampments.
Throughout the pandemic, youth continue to be exited from correction centres, hospitals, and the child welfare system into homelessness. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in food insecurity, placing strain on food banks. Lack of drop-in accessibility has changed the landscape, resulting in decreased safety and communication for young people on the streets.
In response, our street team increased their hours and partnered with our nurse practitioner to provide roaming health services to those in camps. Staff are distributing food hampers, clothing, and masks. High unemployment will leave youth without reliable skills, housing, or food security. We also mobilized to house over 43 youth in the first two months of the pandemic alone!
Young people on the streets experiencing mental health challenges will see these increased by the stress of enduring a pandemic. As the challenges worsen, RaY’s services will be more needed than ever.”
Jewish Child and Family Service
Peg theme: Health
Jewish Child and Family Service (JCFS) works to strengthen lives in keeping with Jewish values. They provide a variety of services, including child welfare, supporting seniors, counselling, mental health, and addictions support.
Al Benarroch, Executive Director, and Cheryl Hirsh Katz, Manager of Adult Services, Jewish Child and Family Service:
“In terms of our child welfare services, it’s tough enough to safely place children in permanent homes. With the pandemic, the emergency shelter system is slammed and staff are working around the clock to find a place for some kids, especially those with special needs.
We’re seeing the strain on people who use drugs, including huge increases in opioid use and accidental overdoses. Addiction is closely tied to mental health; our clients’ anxiety is extremely high and their emotional reserves are limited. This increases their vulnerability to addiction.
We are doing more phone calling and virtual meetings, but some people really miss that face-to-face interaction. Human beings need social contact—it’s an inherent part of who we are. When the pandemic hit and people’s connections dried up, it became very dangerous for people already in a fragile state.
At JCFS, we have focused heavily on staff well-being. If our staff aren’t coping, they won’t have any reserves to be good helpers. For example, our staff self-care committee led a virtual Paint “Nite” with staff, and at Passover we met virtually and invited everyone to share a special holiday memory. Things like this keep people energized and help them better help their own clients, as well.
One of the positives of the pandemic is that it has made us realize how flexible we actually are. Our borders are no longer the city limits. Now we’re in conversations with partners across Canada about sharing online programs, so that someone in Winnipeg can get into a virtual program based in Toronto if they need. Smaller organizations can also now direct their clients to online workshops out of bigger cities. We will never be completely virtual, but these are valuable lessons in adaptability and it’s the epitome of being client-centred.”
Peg theme: Economy
AMIK is an Indigenous-owned company providing Indigenous workforce engagement & training services. They are dedicated to enhancing the socio-economic participation of Indigenous peoples.
Melissa Chung-Mowat, Indigenous Engagement Consultant, AMIK:
“Like most businesses, COVID-19 had an immediate impact on AMIK. We had to quickly shift to a work-from-home structure and many of our workshops were suspended. The most challenging aspect of offering our services virtually is that our cultural awareness and work ethics training is most impactful when people can connect in person. AMIK adapted by offering small, in-person training when physical distancing is possible, and by working with companies to develop online resources for staff.
We continue to work with job seekers and employers virtually to fill term and permanent roles. AMIK has also engaged partners in land-based learning at Cedar Lake Ranch, where individuals can learn about Indigenous practices and ceremonies, including tipi building and medicine picking. Having access to land-based teachings during this time has also been vital in the work of AMIK’s sister organization, Anish, which supports residential school, day school, and Sixties Scoop survivors/thrivers. One positive outcome we have observed is that the pandemic is igniting a business spirit on reserve. People are creating businesses online selling jewelry, clothing, and arts and crafts. They’re selling things like hamburgers, home baking, etc., in the community.
Many of our partners remain committed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 92 (business and reconciliation) and to increasing their Indigenous workforce. AMIK sees this work as increasingly important during these challenging times. We remain focused on connecting Indigenous peoples with employment and assisting our partners with Indigenous cultural awareness training, recruitment, retention, and engagement efforts.”
Economic Development Winnipeg
Peg theme: Built Environment
Economic Development Winnipeg (EDW) is the city’s lead economic development agency. It champions local growth by attracting business, investment, events, and people to our city.
Ryan Kuffner, Vice President of Sales & Business Development, Economic Development Winnipeg:
“While Winnipeg has certainly been impacted by the pandemic, economist Robert Kavcic notes in the recent Bank of Montreal Blue Book report that smaller cities like Winnipeg have held up better economically than larger centres. That said, EDW has been tracking key indicators and pivots from Winnipeg businesses related to the pandemic.
Surprisingly, June 2020 building permit values reveal that Manitoba saw an increase of 21.3 percent in total permit values compared to June last year, but September 2020 was down 19% compared to September 2019. Meanwhile, Winnipeg businesses, such as NFI Group, got to work developing products like antimicrobial air filters to keep buses safe and on the road. Additionally, PCL Construction answered the call to fill a gap for local personal care homes affected by COVID-19 by converting shipping containers into portable ICU or isolation units. They can ship easily, be set up within 30 minutes and are fully capable of being outfitted with electricity plus air filtration systems.
PCL Construction is also working closely with another Winnipeg business, Price Industries, to manufacture a fan filter unit that can pull air out of an enclosed contaminated environment, then safely filter it to the outdoors.
Another impact of the pandemic is office vacancy, as more people shift to working from home. Here, too, we see there has been a much smaller increase in office vacancies in Winnipeg than the national average (50 basis points vs. 110, according to CBRE’s Q3 report). Similarly, according to Colliers Q3 market analysis, Winnipeg’s industrial market appears to be poised for long-term growth as tenants, users, and developers maintain optimism through these challenging times.
Without understating the ongoing and unpredictable impacts of the pandemic, these indicators are encouraging. They show how resilient, adaptable and innovative Winnipeg businesses have been—not just mitigating the impacts of the pandemic, but using it to pivot and transition our city’s growth.”
West Central Women’s Resource Centre
Peg theme: Education and Learning
The West Central Women’s Resource Centre (WCWRC) empowers women to help themselves, their families, and their community to safer, healthier lifestyles.
Lorie English, Executive Director, WCWRC:
“One of the biggest impacts we saw immediately was food insecurity. Families we work with are on such a tight budget—we’re talking $17 left after rent each month. When schools shut down, their breakfast and lunch programs shut down, too. A lot of panicked parents came to us, now unable to feed their kids.
WCWRC has been delivering food hampers twice a month to 150 of our most vulnerable families throughout the pandemic. When we heard kids at home were really struggling with their mental health, we also put together activity kits with board games, books, and crafts.
Now we’re looking toward the holiday season. This is a really hard time for families who have lost their sense of community and connection. WCWRC is donating larger hampers this year with enough for a full holiday meal to 250 families in total.
Many families have mixed feelings about sending their kids back to school this fall. But those who can’t afford daycare and don’t have family support don’t have a choice. If they work, they have to send their kids to school. If their kids have to stay home, they have to quit their jobs. That’s it. For families who have kept their kids home, most of them don’t have computers or tablets. It’s a very different world without access to basic things like that.
In the long term, housing insecurity scares me most. Even at the best of times, finding safe, affordable 2- to 3-bedroom apartments in Winnipeg is like finding a unicorn. When the moratorium on evictions lifted, we knew it was going to be very difficult to find new housing for families. And being without housing puts them at far greater risk.
Mental health will also be one of the longest-reaching effects of the pandemic. Children are living in fear and dread all the time, which is no way to live. But it’s beyond every parent’s control.”
Green Action Centre
Peg theme: Natural Environment
Green Action Centre is a nonprofit organization encouraging practical green solutions for households, workplaces, schools, and communities.
Tracy Hucul, Executive Director, Green Action Centre:
“A big impact we’ve seen in the community is the added pressure placed on teachers and parents, resulting in reduced time for competing priorities like environmental education and climate action. School transportation also looks very different this year, with dramatically reduced bus capacity and families scrambling to get their kids to school.
There was a big increase in biking and walking this summer, especially with Winnipeg’s Open Streets initiative. However, our recent transportation surveys of schools and workplaces have already shown an increase in driving, which has negative environmental impacts.
Organizationally, Green Action Centre was hit hard. We saw a 60 percent commercial revenue reduction from our social enterprise, Compost Winnipeg, at the onset of the pandemic. Recovery of lost revenue is still ongoing. We also lost key sponsors for events, such as the Commuter Challenge. Looking forward, we face two extraordinary crises of our time: climate change and COVID-19. This makes it all the more apparent we have no time to waste. We need to build our climate resilience and look for sustainable choices close to home.”
Peg theme: Social Vitality and Governance
Artspace is a nonprofit arts corporation in the heart of the Exchange District, Winnipeg’s cultural centre. Its mission is to create space for arts and culture to flourish.
Eric Plamondon, Executive Director, Artspace:
“There are a lot of ways COVID-19 has hit us and Winnipeg artists. No more Artspace as a semi-public building. No more Cinémathèque showing work by Manitoba filmmakers to a full cinema. No writing workshops, theatre workshops, stop animation workshops. No film shoots in the green rooms. No Fringe plays. No festivals.
Artspace is far from the hub of overlapping, cross-pollinating activities it was meant to be. For Winnipeg artists, adapting to the new reality has been… awkward. The success of Winnipeg art is in its relationship with an audience. Currently, that relationship is at a distance, or encouraged to go online. However, many art forms were not meant to exist virtually.
This new reality has put severe economic stress on artists and institutions, but it also impacts patrons. Winnipeggers have a great relationship with the arts, but while the pandemic lasts, they will not be nourished through shared art experiences.
Not everyone will come back from this. If and when the gates of the arts reopen, it is unclear if we will still have the keys to the institutions or the human resources to run them, if artists will be ready, and if we will have an audience. We must invest in the arts so they continue to serve our community.”
2020 Our City: A Peg Report on COVID-19 and Well-Being Indicators to Watch
2020 Our City shows where Winnipeg stood before the pandemic and showcases how community organizations and the people they serve have been impacted in 2020. Our reliable indicator set is a valuable resource for understanding the ultimate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and is essential to making informed decisions about how to prevent greater hardship and instead improve the future well-being for all Winnipeggers. Read the full report here.