Woman in Winnipeg is afraid she will be next MMIW

"Karen" was beaten twice in three days last week. It's believed one of the beatings was at the hands of gang members. The second beating was on the streets. Shelters told her they can't take her in because they are only funded for victims of domestic violence, not those beaten on the streets fleeing gang retaliation.

Shelters won't take her since she is not a victim of domestic violence

Woman in Winnipeg is afraid she will be next MMIW

8 years ago
Duration 0:59
Featured Video"Karen" is trying to get off the streets and find a safe place to live until she can get help. Shelters are saying there is a huge gap in the system because they can only take women who are victims of domestic or family violence, not those who are victims of street violence because of gangs or pimps.

"Karen" says she is running for her life and she has nowhere to go.

"I need to get the hell off Main Street. I need to be on the south side of the city, anywhere, fast, if I want to stay alive."
"Karen" is trying to get off the streets and find a safe place to live until she can get help. Shelters are saying there is a huge gap in the system because they can only take women who are victims of domestic or family violence, not those who are victims of street violence because of gangs or pimps. (CBC)

"Karen" who is 26 years old, is afraid she will be Winnipeg's next murdered and missing indigenous woman. She is too afraid to be identified. 

She's been trying to get into a shelter. But those who work with female victims of violence said she doesn't fit the criteria and it's a huge gap in the system. 

Most shelters only take in women who are victims of domestic or family violence. They tell CBC that's how they get their funding. Women who aren't in a relationship and are victims of street violence don't qualify.

Karen was badly beaten on March 5, her face bloodied and a broom stick was poked in her eye. Her nose was broken. She was repeatedly kicked in the ribs and punched by two women.

"I was not stupid enough to fight back. If you hit one person, they will all dog pile you so I just kept trying to hide my face," said Karen.

She spent several hours in hospital and was released. Two days later, another beating, at the hands of two men in an alley off Logan Avenue. She doesn't know if the beatings are related.

"It's hard to say. It could have been related, it could have been paid, a hired hit. It could have been anything. I don't know. I am still trying to put the pieces of that puzzle together and I can't figure it out."

Troubled past

Karen is running from her past and those who want her dead on the street. She started dealing crystal meth in July. She was charged with two counts of possession and possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose. She spent almost two months in jail.  

Karen has been homeless since her release in December. The people at the address where she was supposed to be living after release had been evicted. Employment Income Assistance has been paying for her room at a downtown Hotel. She won't go back there fearing she'll be beaten again.

CBC has been told the first beating involved gang members who wanted to collect drug money. Karen claims she is not in a gang, didn't owe them money and that she has been clean for a week. Even though she knows the identity of the two women, she won't tell police.

"That would make matters worse. You consider yourself as a rat and you are pretty much dead. The saying on the street goes 'snitches belong in ditches.'"

She admits her life has spiraled out of control. Her three children are in the care of Child and Family Services. Alcoholism was a problem in her family. She knows she needs help to turn her life around. She wants to complete her Grade 12, get a job and get her children back.

Nowhere to go

A volunteer trying to help Karen contacted a number of shelters in the city. Marion Willis is head of St. Boniface Street Links, a non-profit agency helping the homeless. Willis said she hasn't been able to find a shelter that will take Karen. 

"I fear the third time might be the charm for the people who are beating her. I am afraid she is going to die on the streets actually. In my view, Karen is the face of those names that comprise the murdered and missing aboriginal women's list," said Willis.

While CBC was interviewing Karen, two unidentified men came into a hotel looking for her. She was kept safe in a closed off room. 

CBC has contacted a number of shelters and they have confirmed what Willis was told. 

"She would not fall under our criteria because it is not intimate partner violence. There is a huge gap in the system. This woman is falling through the cracks because there is really no safe shelter for someone in her situation to go to," said Trudy Lavallee, executive director of Ikwe Widdjiitiwin Shelter. 

Another woman who works with victims of domestic violence and is a survivor herself, echoes what Lavallee is saying. She doesn't want to be identified. 

"Shelters only accommodate women in domestic relationships. Shelters won't take Karen in because she is not in a relationship. There are no shelters for women fleeing violence on the streets from gangs or pimps. They are falling through the cracks and we need to cement those cracks," said the woman. 

Both admit there is a safety factor for the shelters as well. Women with any gang connection wouldn't be allowed in to protect women and children already in the house.

Both women say the province needs a stand-alone shelter  where victims such as Karen can stay and get help. They both say there isn't one now. 

Staying alive 

Karen is hoping to get treatment outside of the city. But being interviewed and going through intake could take weeks. She doesn't know if she will be alive by then. She wasn't allowed into the Salvation Army because she had been drinking.

Karen said she was in the house where Tina Fontaine met the man charged with her murder. 

"It is kind of creepy. I was in his house when Fontaine was there. I don't know if the inquiry into MMIW will make any difference. I hope it does because I could just be another statistic to them. The road I am going, I could have died yesterday, I could have died the day before. But I am still here. I am still here for a reason," said Karen.

Willis is trying to find Karen a place to live away from the city's core and North End while she waits to get into treatment. So far, she hasn't found a place.

Monday afternoon, the provincial spokesperson said they found a shelter for the woman for 48 hours. The spokesperson said they have also encouraged her to call the police.

"This woman's situation is traumatic and stressful. Those looking to exit gangs are offered supports to help transition away from the dangerous lifestyle and there is treatment for addictions, through treatment centres, anti-gang programs and safe spaces," the province said in a statment.