WINNIPEG -- With the pandemic and winter weather taking a hold of Winnipeg, finding a warm place to sleep isn't always easy for the homeless population.

The increase in those sleeping in bus shelters has prompted St. James Coun. Scott Gillingham to visit with those staying in his area to understand their needs.

He said one of the men he spoke with couldn't have been 30 years old.

"He talked about the fact that his home life was one of brokenness and violence and addiction in the home, and he left. I asked him what he wanted, and he said, 'I just want a safe place of my own to live in,'" said Gillingham. "I don't think that's too much to ask."

Gillingham said he's spoken with his council colleagues who have noticed people staying in bus shelters further away from the downtown area, which is unusual. 

"I think we're really trying to achieve two goals here. First and foremost, get these individuals the help that they need and the housing they need, and then make our bus shelters fully available for our transit users," Gillingham said. 

Numbers from the city show reports of people sleeping at bus stops and shelters increased in 2020. 

When the pandemic began in March, the city received 503 calls regarding this while in 2019 it received 275 that month. In April, that number was even higher with 579 calls compared to 379 the year prior. 

"If somebody's occupying the bus shelters, it's problematic especially when it's very cold," said Romeo Ignacio, president of ATU Local 1505 Winnipeg.  "There have been some issues with safety as well."

Ignacio said people sleeping in bus shelters isn't a new issue, but it's grown during the pandemic. He said the workers in charge of cleaning and maintaining the shelters have come across needles, broken glass, and other hazardous materials. 

Gillingham said the city is working with Main Street Project, End Homelessness Winnipeg, and other agencies in order to address the issue and help those in need. 

"One of the goals is to help individuals find housing, and beyond just a shelter. A shelter is good for a time, but that's not long term," said Gillingham.

Last month, the federal government announced it would be spending $12.5 million on a rapid housing initiative in Winnipeg. The project will create 88 affordable housing units in the city.