How we’re making sure everyone is taken care of during an emergency

Our Emergency Social Services team is there 24/7 to support evacuees

Emergency Social Services team members at a house fire.
Emergency Social Services team members at a house fire.

Waking up to your home on fire or having to evacuate for another emergency can be a scary and overwhelming experience. For people who have nowhere to go, our Emergency Social Services (ESS) team is there to provide support in the aftermath.

“After an emergency, not everyone has family or friends they can stay with or the financial resources to rent another place or even stay in a hotel,” said Omar Abdullahi, a Community Development Coordinator and ESS team lead.

We try to make things easier for people who are in crisis and don’t know where they are going to go by providing immediate supports and resources.

The diverse and dedicated team is made up of employees with experience in crisis response, social work, and/or community development. Since they’re passionate about helping people, they’re a part of the ESS team over and above their other roles with us.

They’re prepared to respond 24 hours a day when requested by the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) for emergencies including fire, flood, power outages, or gas leaks.

“In many cases, it is the city’s most vulnerable residents that we are supporting and making sure they have a safe place to go,” said Chris Brens, the Manager of Community Development.

It is a very humbling and meaningful experience.

The team provides support for the 72 hours initially following the emergency in situations where there are up to 100 evacuees. They problem solve to help people with their immediate needs. That could mean ordering food, providing blankets, finding a place for their pets, helping source replacement medication, or even just listening.

We’re fortunate to have a partnership with the Canadian Red Cross and its Personal Disaster Assistance Program for fire emergency impacting under 25 people. In that situation, the ESS team connects the evacuees with the Red Cross, who arranges for up to three days of hotel accommodations. If a fire has over 25 evacuees needing shelter, or in other emergency situations, we provide the accommodations by opening a temporary reception centre, providing hotels, or working with other partners to help find alternative accommodations. The ESS team also connects displaced residents with community resources who can assist them to find both temporary and longer-term housing options.

Factors including improved procedures between the ESS team and WFPS and increased awareness of vulnerable populations means the number of calls the ESS team responds to have been rising steadily over the past few years. In 2022, they responded to 76 calls and supported 405 people, up from 41 calls and 260 people the year before. It’s impactful work for everyone involved.

“A smile or someone telling you ‘thank you’ when you give them a coffee or food or take them to the hotel just warms you because a minute or hour ago they didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Abdullahi.

“You feel like you’ve made a difference in our city by making someone’s life a little bit better."

While the ESS team gets the initial call, it’s the help from other organizations that ensures that the diverse needs of evacuees can be supported in their time of greatest need.

“It takes many hands to support our residents during these challenging situations, so we are truly grateful for the partnerships we have with community organizations, the provincial government, and the Canadian Red Cross during these emergency situations,” said Brens.

The team works closely with Canadian Red Cross, Salvation Army (including their food truck), North End Renewal Corporation, West Central Women's Resource Centre, Spence Neighborhood Association, Downtown Community Safety Partnership, Main Street Project, Manitoba Métis Federation, Province of Manitoba Employment and Income Assistance, and the Winnipeg Humane Society, as well as our Animal Services Agency, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Services’ Emergency Paramedics in the Community Program, and Winnipeg Transit.

Originally published on May 12, 2023.

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