1JustCity: Loving the Unloved

We’ve all heard the terms “less fortunate” or “most vulnerable” when talking about certain members of the Winnipeg community, but it isn’t often enough that the areas of love, comfort, and connection are the focus. There’s where 1JustCity comes in.

In their own words, 1JustCity “actively loves the underloved.” This works as one of four main areas of expertise along with Working Towards Reconciliation, Growing Individuals’ Capacity, and Building Inclusive Communities.

I was lucky enough to chat with Executive Director, Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, including how much more challenging this year has been than others along with the many updates/additions the organization has in the works and some encouraging client success stories.

Assiniboine Credit Union food and hygiene donations were delivered to Oak Table Inc. and St Matthew’s Maryland Community Ministry, both partners in 1JustCity
First off, major props to you for keeping on with all of the hard work you do throughout what I imagine has been your toughest year yet. What would you say has kept you motivated?

At 1JustCity, we seek to be a loving point of contact for anyone in our city in need. During the pandemic, that need only grew. So, for us, it was easy to stay motivated to do this work and our donors helped us to ensure that we could keep up with what the community needed.

For example, the way this lunch program helped this beautiful family during the time of pandemic: “Judy” is an elder sister turned foster mom of her three siblings. COVID meant they would be all home from school in the spring, with no lunch programs at school. For her and her younger siblings, knowing there was somewhere they could grab lunch at a 1JustCity site meant that they could survive doing ‘school’ from home. When schools sent kids home, they were scared and unsure, but donors’ contributions made it possible to ensure that every day they could access a nutritious & delicious lunch.

The help we receive from donors meant they happily enjoyed their summer having successfully completed their courses and that Judy, beaming with pride over their grades, doesn’t have to worry they’ll be taken back into the system.

Now back to school, we gave them masks and they come in for an emergency food kit, canned & dry goods raised by workplaces, faith groups etc. packaged up to help them make it through the gaps in finances.

Days For Girls (Winnipeg Chapter) made and provided 1JustCity with over 300 masks.
It may be difficult to nail-down one experience of so many you’ve had with the city’s underloved, but is there a particular memory you think of to help with even the toughest times?

How some of the people who are facing homelessness and slept at JustAWarmSleep donated money to the operations because they were so grateful.

There’s also the success of meeting someone like Janine and being a part of her story; read the whole thing here.

With three main drop-in locations for those in need, Oak Table in Osborne’s Augustine United Church is expanding! What can the city expect to see with the changes?

The city can expect to see a historic building that was underused, come to life. The plans being with its space tailored to the needs of our guests.

  • We strongly believe everyone has a right to access washroom space, so we are building a Dignity Washroom; a washroom where people can knock on the door and know they will be let in to go to the bathroom. We will also have a place for people to take a shower and have access to laundry facilities. These are things we take for granted, but for people living on the street or experiencing poverty, these are critical aspects of life they often cannot access.
  • We will have a Health Care room for guests to meet with Health Care Professionals, as well as the Foot Care Nurse.
  • Our current kitchen can only handle two people working in it at a time, which slows things down when preparing lunch for 130-150 people each day, (so) our volunteers will have a food preparation area that will meet their needs. It will provide a bigger kitchen, commercial-grade appliances, and a pantry.
  • We will have a safe, warm space for our guests that use it during the day and at night through Just A Warm Sleep. In the summer, we will finally be able to provide consistent relief from the heat when our guests attend Oak Table.
  • We are also excited that we were able to add some safety factors during our build including adding a sprinkler system, our floor will be non-skid, and a new ramp making our space accessible for all. We will also be able to take a guest’s temperature as they access hand-sanitizer, and our toilets and sinks will have auto-flushers & enclosed stalls. We had enhancements made to our HVAC system because of COVID, allowing filtration twice during airflow to the gathering space.
  • With SPLASH Child Care as a partner, there will be children and their families coming to or staying in the Village for Child Care. As our partner, Augustine United transforms their Sanctuary into a space to provide concerts; we look forward to the people this will attract to the area. A Boardroom will be available to community groups to rent and will have elevator access, making it accessible for all.
Included in your drop-in programming is a focus on Indigenous Cultural programming; what are some of the most important aspects of this?

Providing opportunities for reconciliation in a space for those who are struggling is what reconciliation should be. Many of our guests are estranged from their cultural practices due to systemic intervention that negated them growing that crucial part of themselves.

At 1JustCity we believe everyone should have access to spiritual health. Our cultural programming supports the community to see their values reflected in the work that we do, enabling them to see life-giving teachings they know to be true, and are lived out in the work that we do. Sometimes, it’s a sharing circle where anyone is welcome to express themselves to heal. Other times, it’s traditional sewing and weaving that can bring back a time when family would gather together to work on a major project that enables everyone to self-actualize in their own way.

With a growing population of shelters in the city, what are some differences between 1JustCity and some of the others?

One thing that sets us apart is that we are a no barrier overnight space at Just A Warm Sleep, our seasonal emergency warming centre. This means that people can enter who have been using substances, who want to bring in their belongings in a shopping cart, and those who have pets as part of their street family. In our daytime programming, one of our focuses is building the capacity of those who access services through volunteerism and training.

Ultimately, we are really open about loving people and we believe that everyone deserves the dignity of feeling love worthy.

We’re (also) thrilled to work collaboratively with the other shelters in Winnipeg with thanks in big part to End Homelessness Winnipeg in coordinating that effort.

It’s amazing to see so much support from the community-at-large, including a solid team of volunteers! Why are volunteers so important to the organization? What’s the best way for people to get involved?

Whether it’s a gift of time or financial support, it’s the generosity of people who care about Winnipeg’s communities that are in need that make all we do possible! The amount of masks sewn by caring citizens, the amount of lives saved by a listening and loving volunteer, the millions of sandwiches volunteers make or the hundreds of pizzas and hot restaurant meals donors helped us serve. Every little bit makes someone’s day a lot better!

People can donate or sign up to volunteer at 1JustCity.ca or check us out on all social media @1JustCity.

Pamela Roz

Pamela Roz has spent the last 14 years working in radio while also running her own publicity business, Pamela Roz PR, since 2011. The focus of the latter has always been the needs of Manitoba-based artists/bands, theatre companies, brands, charities, events, and organizations. Pamela also continues to build her skills in journalism (which she majored in through Red River College's Creative Communications program), as well as social media, voiceover, interviewing, event planning, event hosting and radio tracking.

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