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'A desperate need': Selkirk soup kitchen helping homeless, says more is needed

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For the last five years, those experiencing homelessness in Selkirk have had nowhere to go. It's prompted calls to find the city's most vulnerable a warm place to spend the night as community members do what they can to help.

If you stop by Selkirk's Memorial Hall on a weekday, you'll find anywhere between 40 and 60 people lining up for a hot meal on a cold day.

The volunteers at the Our Daily Bread Selkirk soup kitchen prepare the meals five days a week and give the folks who stop by a chance to take home some free nonperishable food that has been donated by local stores.

"I came to the soup kitchen ever since I was young. It's a good soup kitchen. They always serve nice hot meals. They are good workers. Good volunteers," said Terrill Easter, one of the people who stopped by the soup kitchen on Thursday.

Barbara Pasaur is one of those volunteers. She, along with her twin sister Beverley Trehorst, are on the board of the non-profit organization. They've been volunteering together at the soup kitchen for the past eight years.

She says the Our Daily Bread soup kitchen is one of the few immediate resources in Selkirk to help those struggling with homelessness.

"There's lots of services for people who have a home, but not a lot for people who don't," she told CTV News.

Pasaur said because there are so few resources for those experiencing homelessness, many head to Winnipeg when the weather gets cold because there are more resources there to help them.

"Somebody who's got clout within Manitoba needs to come forward and say Selkirk needs something to take care of people who are passing through or who are legitimately homeless," she said.

The city's only overnight homeless shelter shut down in 2018 due to a lack of volunteers.

In the five years since, no other shelter has been set up to fill the void, leaving those dealing with homelessness to find their own place to sleep.

"We found people sleeping on the steps in the front here, we've had people in their cars sleeping in the parking lot," Trehorst said. "So we know there is a need."

The City of Selkirk isn't able to track how many people are living in homelessness. Part of the issue is many go unseen, couch surfing or heading to Winnipeg where there are more resources to help them.

Selkirk's Mayor Larry Johannson said his city is seeing an uptick in homelessness.

"I would call upon the province to take a serious look at this situation, because it's not just in one or two cities, I think it's province-wide," he said.

He says the City of Selkirk does what it can to help – providing the space for the soup kitchen and a bi-weekly food bank in the city. But Johannson said the city doesn't have the financial or human resources to build or staff an overnight shelter by itself.

He said the province would need to step in.

"It's sorely needed in all our cities," Johannson said. "It's time that they stepped up a little bit to the plate with this, and not only addressed the transitional housing and the Manitoba housing, but also the reason why people are in these positions. A lot of it is mental health issues and addiction."

In a statement to CTV News, Bernadette Smith, the minister of housing, addictions and homelessness, said she is aware that Selkirk's overnight shelter closed in 2018.

"We recognize the growing need for supports for our houseless relatives across the province and are working with our team to ensure those who need supports are able to access them," the statement reads.

Not all who stop by for a meal at the soup kitchen are homeless – many just need a helping hand, while others come to socialize with friends.

Albert Gunn visits the soup kitchen every day to get out of the house and meet people in his community. But he says something needs to be done to help the community's most vulnerable.

"A lot of them don't know where to go, and basically there isn't any place really that they can go here," he said. "There is a desperate need for something like that here."

The Our Daily Bread soup kitchen says it is always looking for volunteers to help prepare and hand out warm meals. Those interested can find more information on the Our Daily Bread Selkirk website

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