Raising the roof on homelessness

How SSHRC-funded research is helping Winnipeg’s inner city

Transforming a bleak inner-city neighbourhood into a flourishing district is a challenge for any community. Problems seem to outweigh solutions, so revitalization appears hopeless.

Not so for Jim Silver who, with the help of a 2012 SSHRC Partnership Grant, is leading a team of researchers in finding specific solutions for Winnipeg’s inner-city community.

“For over 100 years Winnipeg, and especially Winnipeg’s inner city, has suffered from a severe shortage of decent quality and affordable housing for people with low incomes,” says Silver, a professor and chair of The University of Winnipeg’s Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies. “That was still very much the case in 2011.”

Working closely with inner-city residents and community organizations, Silver used community-based research to advocate for improvements to public housing, which helped lead to the rebirth of a housing development that stood half-empty with boarded-up units and was nicknamed the “war zone” by Winnipeggers.

“It was striking to see the dramatic changes that happened in Lord Selkirk Park, Winnipeg’s largest public housing complex. A community development process, supported actively by research, led to Lord Selkirk Park changing from a place where nobody wanted to live, to a place where every unit is now occupied and a wait list exists to get in,” explains Silver.

“This was surprising given the widespread, highly negative views of public housing across North America, views that in most cities have led to the bulldozing of public housing. We were involved in a different housing approach, and it has worked.”

Community-connected research was also instrumental in persuading the government of Manitoba to increase shelter rates for people on social assistance.

“Once again our research was used by community groups who advocated for the increase over a period of 4 years”, Silver says.

Silver’s research is part of a $2.5 million, seven-year SSHRC Partnership Grant: Partnering for Change—Community-Based Solutions for Aboriginal and Inner-City Poverty. The project is broken down into four research streams. Silver leads the housing and neighbourhood revitalization stream.

Homelessness and poverty are inner-city problems that can be turned around, he says. It just requires sustained public investment and community-led development.

Results bear this out. Winnipeg’s 2015 State of the Inner City Report showed that, although poverty still exists, unemployment and poverty rates are declining, education levels are rising and so are incomes. According to the report, “While still much lower in the inner city than in the rest of Winnipeg, inner-city incomes are rising faster—in fact, 2.5 times faster in the inner city than in the rest of Winnipeg.”