Some Manitoba wildfire evacuees struggling to adjust to life in city, worry about homes they left behind
Many not used to living in large urban centre, need mental health supports
With hundreds of wildfire evacuees now living in hotels in Winnipeg and Brandon, some say they're struggling to settle into their home away from home.
"Right now we're all confused. We don't know what's going on. Our mental stress is really building more every day, because we don't know how our homes are," said John Cook, who left Bloodvein First Nation with his family earlier this week.
Cook is one of close to 2,000 wildfire evacuees from five different Manitoba First Nations who are staying in Winnipeg and Brandon.
He said his children are feeling overwhelmed and confused after being forced to flee their homes.
"They are pretty bewildered, too. My children don't know what's going on."
Cook used to work as a guidance counsellor and says he thinks his community members need access to mental health supports in addition to accommodations.
"There's so much access with drugs, alcohol for them, and a lot of people when they're stressed out, that's what they lean toward," he said. "That's something that I don't want to see."
Navigating the city
Frank Young moved away from Bloodvein First Nation when he was 15 to pursue his education in Winnipeg.
He recently moved back to his home community, and now he's helping evacuees navigate the city during this stressful time.
"It's been challenging for the community members because a lot of them are not very well in Winnipeg because a lot of them don't spend a lot of time here."
Many are worried about what might happen to their homes if the flames get too close, Young said, so he's been trying to connect them with mental health supports as well.
"Everybody is worried that if the fire gets close, their house could be gone, they could lose everything."
While Young tries to support evacuees in Winnipeg, his parents stayed back in the community with about 100 others. His mom is a band councillor while his father is a former chief in the community and also used to be a firefighter.
They're keeping an eye on the homes and providing updates on firefighting efforts. Young's father has been posting updates on Facebook to help quell the concerns of community members.
"I know that they're resilient, I know that they're strong, so I know that they're safe. That's all I know," he said.
- A previous version of this story said a Bloodvein First Nation community member encouraged the public to donate to the Canadian Red Cross to support wildfire evacuees. In fact, while the Red Cross is assisting fire evacuees, it is not currently collecting donations specifically for Manitoba evacuees.Jul 23, 2021 11:18 AM CT
With files from Marina von Stackelberg and Patrick Foucault