It was standing room only for a public meeting in Gretna Wednesday night. The gathering was organized by Manitoba Housing officials to inform local residents of their plan to use the former seniors residence on Berlin Avenue as a temporary housing centre for asylum seekers crossing the border into Manitoba.
The large numbers of migrants crossing at Emerson every week is putting a huge strain on housing resources in Winnipeg, according to Carolyn Ryan, Executive Director for Manitoba Housing and Community Development. She explains how they intend to use their Gretna facility to reduce some of that pressure.
The Berlin Avenue building is in remarkably good shape, according to Ryan, and will basically require a cleaning before beds, linens and other furnishings are moved in.
Meanwhile, a number of residents at the meeting expressed concerns about the plan, questioning department officials about the possible safety and security risks of bringing migrants into Gretna.
"I think those are perfectly fair questions," said Ryan. "I'm a parent and I live in a small town and I know how new people coming into town can be concerning, especially with so much misinformation or lack of information out there."
Ryan and several officials with the province's settlement services and education departments indicated the migrants are not lawless people, and there have been no instances of violence in Winnipeg where many are awaiting an immigration hearing to determine if they can remain in Canada. The majority of these families are fleeing bad situations in their home countries of Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia and are looking to establish a new life for themselves in Canada.
Rhineland Reeve Don Wiebe says the municipality will try to connect with RCMP and Canada Border Services to address the safety and security issue with residents.
"This plan comes with a lot apprehension in this community, so information would be a good thing and hopefully more communication and the flow of information will relieve some of that anxiety."
Manitoba housing hopes to have the former seniors building in Gretna ready to receive asylum seekers in about a week.