Steinbach may not be immune to the urban homelessness, crime, and drug activity increasing throughout the province, but it is not bad at dealing with it. That is at least the perception of one resident with first-hand experience living on the streets of both Steinbach and Winnipeg.

Lisa Wiebe is a young blonde woman whose almost withering appearance is offset by a steady strength in her eyes. The frailness is due to her malnourishment, a problem she has not yet overcome. The strength is the result of fighting incredible obstacles and coming out on top. This is her story.

As Wiebe tells it, she was unjustly evicted from her house earlier this year because of her son’s generally violent behavior, one that he may have picked up from Wiebe’s abusive ex-husband. Already living on a low income and unable to afford any other rent, Wiebe had nowhere to store her belongings. Everything that did not fit in her backpack she was forced to abandon along with the thought of having a home.

For over three months this backpack carried all of Wiebe's belongings.

“Statistically, it is very common for victims of abuse to end up homeless," comments Wiebe, "and I am sort of frustrated that I ended up a statistic.”

During the summer months of 2019, she was homeless by every definition. Wiebe says many people who are classified as homeless still have the personal connections necessary to crash in a basement or on a couch from time to time, but it was not so for her.

“In my situation, homelessness meant literally living on the streets and walking from corner to corner trying to find shelter.”

Wiebe recalls many lonely nights sleeping on the concrete beneath a picnic table under the wooden arbor at K.R. Barkman Park. There at least was a single outlet with which she could charge her phone. Another favorite spot of hers were the pine trees. “They were warm, dry and sort of comfortable,” she says, “and nobody could see you.”

Despite operating on extreme deficiencies of both quality sleep and food, Wiebe says her biggest challenge was an issue often overlooked.

“The hardest part was finding somewhere to go to the bathroom,” she shares quietly. “Everywhere you go, businesses say bathrooms are reserved for paying customers. If you are homeless, you don’t have money to pay for anything so you are not able to use the bathroom. Sometimes you go days without even drinking anything just so you don’t need to pee.”

Beneath this picnic table at K. R. Barkman Park became a common resting place for Wiebe.

While living in this sorry state, Wiebe says she heard rumors of services in Winnipeg that could help her case so she visited the big city to investigate. Wiebe immediately regretted it. With hesitation, she remembers one of her more harrowing experiences.

“When I was in Winnipeg I happened to walk past a man who had been stabbed in the neck. Though there was blood pouring out, people were walking past him like he didn’t exist.”

Wiebe says her cellphone had no wifi or data to call for emergency assistance but she attended to him nonetheless.

“When I stopped to help him he told me I wasn’t safe there and that I needed to go, he would be fine… I don’t want that to end up happening here in Steinbach.”

Wiebe says her brief time in Winnipeg proved relatively fruitless. She found that most of the resources for homeless people there, while useful, were already functioning at maximum capacity. Upon coming back to her hometown, Wiebe was grateful for Steinbach's less congested programs and, in her words, “more caring people”.  

“So now everyone has begun coming here,” says Wiebe of Steinbach. “This is a nicer place and people are hoping to find help.”

Wiebe started making use of local services and says Today House and Steinbach Community Outreach became key players in helping her back onto her feet. Now, with their assistance, she again has a home. However, Wiebe insists that getting a physical place to live is only the bare beginnings of what she needs to live a so-called “normal life”. For the more comfortable her life became, the more real her PTSD became.

“If I hadn’t had trauma before I ended up homeless, there's no doubt that I would have it now. I’m terrified of ending up back on the street again and I can’t sleep without having nightmares of what I have seen.”

She continues: “Being on the streets for as long as I was, I couldn’t stay in my house for longer than a couple of hours. I was more comfortable outside than I was inside for the first little while. I had become so used to living outdoors that having shelter didn’t make sense in my head anymore. Having a home shouldn’t be a luxury, but it sure feels like one.”

Kroeker is helping Wiebe readjust to living with her basic needs and the two have become friends in the process.

Steinbach Community Outreach Director Irene Kroeker says her heart breaks for people like Wiebe and she implores her fellow Steinbach residents to be aware of their everyday surroundings. “If there is somebody that is hungry, make sure they have food to eat. If there is somebody who is struggling outside, give them a tarp or a tent. Ask them what their need actually is.”

Wiebe says her experience is not unique to the area and encourages local residents to open their eyes to the poverty around them and do what they can to prevent her story from repeating itself. Still battling the ramifications of starvation and trauma, with help Wiebe is confident life will get better. Like Kroeker, Wiebe firmly believes that the only solution to poverty in Steinbach is people who really care.