Something is missing in Osborne Village this year. The seasonal street people, who are part of the dynamic fabric of the Village, have largely disappeared. And neither police nor politicians, area businesses or local soup kitchens know why.
In past years, these people have been a common sight in the Village, which serves as their outdoor home for the summer where they find food and often ask shoppers for money.
The usual gathering places are around the bus stop at Stradbrook and Osborne near the fire hall, and at the bus stop on River and Osborne near the Gas Station Theatre.
The youth who usually travel between B.C. and Winnipeg and back again are not here this year. The older people who live here all year long are still panhandling and sleeping in the park and along the riverbank. The Cadets are moving them along so as to prevent them from bothering shoppers. Cadets are also instrumental in providing the less fortunate with ambulance services or Main Street Project assistance as required.
The seasonal street people often travel with dogs both for protection and companionship. These dogs are very well cared for and are used to the vibrant and often noisy street. The Oak Table soup kitchen, located in Augustine United Church and open for lunch four afternoons a week, usually receives requests for dog food; but this summer, they haven’t had a single request for dog food. It is something the volunteers have noticed and remarked about.
The street is still vibrant with buskers and shoppers and people enjoying the outdoor eateries. Yet, it seems there has been a change in this one sector of the community, which begs the question: what has happened to all the seasonal street people in Osborne Village?
After speaking to some of the business owners, they report there has been no policy change but there has been a greater visibility of the Cadet patrols both in cars and on foot. They also travel in pairs and wear uniforms that look official. This alone might encourage people to move along. It may certainly be enough to get the drug dealers to relocate.
Inquiries to the District 6 police office garners a similar response: there has been no new policy directive from downtown. The police report that they are more involved when there are crimes like drug dealing, theft, assault, etc. The Cadets are more engaged with the panhandling, the sleeping in the park and helping the community with their sense of safety when they walk around their neighbourhood.
Winnipeg Police Services Public Information Officer, Jason Michalyshen, is very interested in this change. He hopes it is the result of a lot of time and effort invested in the area over a number of years. He points out that the Cadets are another pair of eyes on the street and an enhancement to public service and safety.
The people working at Jennifer Howard’s office (the local MLA) say they too are not aware of any policy changes from their point of view.
It seems there is no one answer to the question of where the seasonal street people who usually frequent Osborne Village have gone to.
This reporter did find a couple of people in early June who were sleeping in front of Augustine Church. They both had jobs waiting for them, one in B.C. and one in East St. Paul. The weather had shortened their work season and they were on their way out of Winnipeg that day. They were not making Winnipeg their summer home. ‘Joe’ did comment when asked about why they had slept on the River Avenue side of the church and not on the more secluded Pulford side. He said it was because the noise disturbed his sleep when the bars let out and the partying began. Perhaps the Cadets might consider moving the late night revelers along too.
In the Village there is a general feeling of acceptance of all people who may not be welcome in other parts of the City or the Province. It is an attitude that has opened this community up to many people for decades, from aging hippies to LGBT to suburban kids looking for a change to people who have or choose to sleep outside. Osborne Village is a cultural microcosm and many residents are proud of it.
In the end, there is not a single, clear explanation as to the whereabouts of the Village’s seasonal street people. We can only trust that they are okay.
Yesterday, this reporter talked to a young woman named Genevieve travelling to the Yukon from Montreal. She looked happy, well nourished and she had two dogs. I asked her how she was travelling and she told me she was hitchhiking; one of her dogs was for fun and the other was for protection. Bon chance Genevieve! I hope from the bottom of my heart that you return safely to your family in September.