2012 07 homelessCommunity Outreach accepts donations to help the homeless at Steinbach Mennonite Church.

Although Steinbach is well-known as a thriving community, it appears there are still many homeless people living in the city.  Irene Kroeker is Community Outreach Worker at the organization's office in the Steinbach Mennonite Church.

Kroeker says the magnitude of local homelessness is not actually very well-known.

"I don't think in general people in Steinbach feel that they have homeless people.  I think it's because they don't look like general homeless people do.  In Winnipeg, you can spot them immediately if they have carts or by the way they dress.  In Steinbach, they generally dress like everybody else."  However, she notes they can be found on park benches during the night.

Kroeker explains lack of resources is a major challenge in helping such people, because others are not inclined to help if they see it as a non-issue.  She says providing food is the first step for Community Outreach.

"We try first to meet basic needs.  Once they come to me when they are homeless, they of course have to eat and have a place to sleep for night.  We have to address that first."  Kroeker adds they try to coordinate with South East Helping Hands and the Soup's On kitchen to provide food when none is available.

She says there are ways for people to help out.

"The three agencies always have need for more food.  We like for the homeless to be able to eat well, and many of them have children.  It is always an issue for me when I hear that there are homeless children involved."  Additionally, she says Community Outreach is in need of school supplies and two volunteers to help distribute donations.  Kroeker says they accept anything from toilet paper to furniture in order to settle people in proper housing.

She shares some positive news for serving the homeless in Steinbach.

"For shelter, we now have our Today House - it's our new emergency shelter.  It is ready to be launched in fall.  The location is kept secret, and we have house-parents that we are in the process of hiring.  It will run like a family-type emergency shelter."  Kroeker says this is a place that agencies can bring people to stay for a single night.  However, she admits this is only a first step.

Kroeker says she thinks homelessness is just a part of being a city, but can be reduced.

"I don't know if it can be prevented, but it certainly can be worked with.  With the type of homeless people we have here in Steinbach, it's very workable."

She tells the story of a local man in his early 20s who currently desperately needs a place to stay.

"He was texting me, 'Please, I want to have a shower; I would like to clean up; I really need to have some food.'  That's the latest person - of course we have many others."  

Kroeker says even finding affordable housing is tough in Steinbach.

"It definitely needs to be worked on.  I'm always very excited when I hear the City Council working on trying to get different types of housing in different areas."  

She states she was exposed to teenage homelessness about ten years ago through running alternative program at Steinbach Secondary Regional School.

"I slowly got involved in it by trying to help each one individually, and somehow it just blossomed.  When I retired from teaching, the church offered me some space there to put donations."

Kroeker says the need is great for helping the homeless, but just how many of them are there locally?   Her count may seem staggering.

"I use the numbers that I have kept record of, but I know that there's more.  I only have in my statistic what I have seen, so there's more than 170 homeless in Steinbach."  

She notes once she moved past her initial impressions, she realized the community's homeless are just as local as everyone else.

"It's very interesting to me - I always thought maybe they would have been some people coming from outside, and then were homeless.  That's not always true; it's mostly people that were born and raised in Steinbach, so we have an obligation to help our own."  She says anyone is welcome to contact her to further discuss this issue or find out how they can help by calling (204)326-7954.

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