Indigenous group talks about reporting system for people experiencing homelessness
WINNIPEG — An Indigenous organization is spearheading efforts to develop a system that could make it easier to flag when a person experiencing homelessness is missing.
It comes after the slayings of four women last year in Winnipeg by an alleged serial killer.
Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, a community service provider in the city, is leading the conversation with other agencies, including homeless shelters, on how best to protect vulnerable individuals while also respecting their privacy.
One possibility is a database of shelter and agency clients that can be shared between groups. Another, already underway at one shelter, is training staff to look out for predatory behaviour.
“We have nothing in terms of the ability to monitor their well-being outside those places of refuge,” said Sandra DeLaronde, an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, who is working with Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata on next steps.
Other than offering a person temporary shelter, she said, agencies are limited in what they can do to address safety concerns.
Jeremy Skibicki is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, Rebecca Contois and an unidentified woman who Indigenous leaders have called Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.
Police believe the women were killed over a two-month period last spring.
The partial remains of Contois were discovered in a garbage bin in May 2022 and at a city-run landfill the following month. The bodies of the three others have not been found.
Police have not said how Skibicki is alleged to have known the women.
Family members have said the three identified women were vulnerable, and experienced periods of homelessness and addictions.
Little is known about the unidentified victim. Police believe she is an Indigenous woman in her mid-20s and was killed on or about March 15.
Police haven’t released any updates on their investigation into her identity.
DeLaronde said Indigenous women often move to large, urban areas seeking safety from what they are experiencing in their homes or home communities. And they don’t want to be identified.
The question then becomes how can agencies support them, she said.
DeLarond said she would like to see shelters and agencies have conversations with their clients about what staff can do if they don’t hear from them.
“Develop a plan with them at the outset that allows for some kind of capacity for outreach and the safety check,” said DeLaronde.
Police do not limit who can report someone missing, but they are limited in what they can do if an adult chooses to cut off contact from family, friends or agencies.
“Whoever reports it will have to articulate reasons they believe this person is truly missing or their safety is in jeopardy,” said Winnipeg policeConst. Dani McKinnon. “The missing persons unit considers people’s typical patterns as part of the investigation.”
There is a record when people stay overnight at shelters, but there is little else in the way of formal documentation when individuals access drop-in centres or if they choose to remain on the streets.
Creating a database where shelters and service providers keep track of individuals is not out of the question, said DeLaronde. That way these places can check in with each other before reporting someone missing.
DeLaronde stressed any initiatives going forward would be voluntary, inclusive and in “talking with those people on the ground that are impacted.”
Meanwhile, one Winnipeg shelter is training staff on how better to recognize those who target vulnerable people.
“The community has cared about these women, and certainly our staff were mourning. That’s why we wanted to increase our awareness around predatory behaviour,” said Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, chief executive officer at Siloam Mission.
Blaikie Whitecloud said she had to address predatory behaviour while she was running several drop-in centres before working at Siloam. In one instance, workers banned a man from entering facilities.
Throughout training that took place last month, Blaikie Whitecloud said it became clear there is a lack of resources available for people who may be targeted because they are homeless or working in the sex trade.
“A universal basic income or a funded supportive housing environment would stop so much of this,” she said.
“As a society, we’re choosing to let this happen.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.
Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
The Losani Family Foundation celebrates 10 years of giving back
This year, the Losani Family Foundation is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. Over the past decade, the Foundation has made a significant impact on the communities it serves in three major core areas:
- support for vulnerable women,
- support for children,
- support for food banks.
As the foundation’s parent company, Losani Homes is a leading developer operating in the Hamilton/GTA area, with a long-standing history of supporting charitable causes. Losani Homes’ charitable initiatives have been active in the local community for over 40 years, ever since the Losani family first immigrated to Canada. Some early initiatives included supporting children’s programs through an emphasis on physical activity, literacy programs, and hospital facilities.
By 2013, the Losani Family formalized their commitment to local communities by founding the Losani Family Foundation, which has been making a sizable impact on charitable organizations, locally and internationally, donating over $1.6 million since its inception in 2013.
CEO of Losani Homes, Fred Losani, has been the driving force behind corporate and family philanthropy over the last decade. With a deep sense of care and stewardship in support of local and international communities, Fred and the company’s employees have worked tirelessly to support housing, clean water, health, and numerous other important causes.
The Losani Family Foundation has supported multiple organizations over the years, including but not limited to: Good Shepherd, St. Matthew’s House, and Hamilton Food Share. The Losani Family Foundation’s passion for giving back has also inspired many business associates in the local community.
In 2006, Fred and five other Hamilton business leaders raised a staggering $1.5 million for local children and families by trekking to the North Pole, and again in 2008, where they trekked to the South Pole. They even completed the entire length of the Bruce Trail in 2012. These achievements were the spark that led to the Foundation’s inception, and they have continued to make a difference in countless lives since.
In 2017, Losani Homes and the Losani Family Foundation received the Gold Award for Building Community Spirit at the National Association of Home Builders Awards (NAHB).
At that time, Fred Losani stated: “We are honoured to receive this special recognition for our efforts at both the local and international levels. We are fortunate that we have achieved great success in our home and land development business. We take this responsibility seriously, but we are equally committed to and proud of the work done through the Losani Family Foundation.”
The Losani Family Foundation has consistently professed that food is an essential element of life, is at the heart of any family gathering and is a core value of the Foundation. The Losani Family Foundation has worked with numerous food banks over the years, one of the closest relationships being with Hamilton Food Share, enabling the team to support vulnerable people in the community. The Losani Family Foundation has worked closely with Hamilton Food Share to support families at risk of facing food insecurity issues. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been donated by the Losani Family Foundation to this vital Hamilton organization.
In 2022, the Losani Family Foundation further supported families facing poverty by contributing $9,500 to Food4Kidz to establish a relationship with the organization to address the issue of food insecurity for children in close to 70 Hamilton schools. The Losani team also visited CityKidz, another non-profit organization close to the Foundation’s heart. Team members worked on packing family care kids and assembling boxes for meal kits. Along with their volunteer labour, the Losani Family Foundation donated $25,000 to help improve the lives of local children by supporting the work of CityKidz. To date, the Losani Family Foundation has donated well over $200,000 to CityKidz.
Looking towards 2023 and beyond, the Losani Family Foundation will be supporting these and numerous other charitable initiatives. Their aim is to provide significant financial support to grassroots charities in local communities.
In 2023, the team at Losani Homes will embark on multiple visits to support our community partners in Hamilton, Stoney Creek, Brantford, Paris, Grimsby, and Beamsville.
The Losani Family Foundation continues to set a high standard for philanthropy and remains steadfast in its commitment to making a difference in our local communities.
Vancouver park board offers tips on how to ‘respect’ city’s coyotes
VANCOUVER — Now that coyote denning season is in full swing, the Vancouver park board is offering some tips for “peaceful coexistence” between the animals and humans.
Their pups are born in the spring, and the board says that makes coyotes more active as they protect their dens and seek food for their young.
Normally they’re only seen at dawn and dusk, but the board says that behaviour changes in spring, when they’re spotted in the daytime and they become bolder or stand their ground if they perceive a threat.
Coyotes are found across Vancouver and prefer sheltered, wooded areas to raise their families, so the board says it will occasionally close trails in high-traffic locations like Stanley Park where they are known to frequent.
Its tips for living without conflict with the animals include to never leave or offer food — punishable by a $500 fine if offenders are caught — keep pets on a leash, give wildlife space and if you see a coyote, slowly back away.
There have been a number of high-profile coyote attacks in the city over the years, including dozens in spring and summer of 2021 in Stanley Park, some involving children bitten while with their families.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2023.
The Canadian Press
Military expecting to save $30M per year with targeted housing benefit for troops
OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is rolling out a new housing benefit that a senior commander says will better help troops struggling to find affordable accommodations while saving millions of dollars every year.
The Canadian Forces Housing Differential will supplement the incomes of members who have to live and work in areas of the country with high rental costs.
That includes Canadian Forces Base Comox on Vancouver Island, where some members were recently told they could contact Habitat for Humanity if they were having trouble finding a place to live.
The benefit is set to come into effect on July 1 and will replace an existing allowance called the post living differential, or PLD, that sought to offset the cost of living and working in particularly expensive communities.
Unlike that allowance, whose rates have been frozen since 2009, the new housing benefit will be tied to salary to help those who need it most, said Brig.-Gen. Virginia Tattersall, the military’s director general of compensation and benefits.
The result is that thousands of members who don’t currently qualify for the PLD allowance will start to receive the housing benefit, while thousands of others will see their PLD cash cut off — at a net savings of about $30 million per year.
“This benefit is about us being equitable,” Tattersall said in an interview. “It is truly trying to look after those who need it the most. So hence why it is more the junior ranks that will benefit from this than it is the senior ranks.”
She added the aim is to ensure no member is forced to spend more than between 25 per cent and 35 per cent of their monthly salary on rent. An outside company has been hired to assess average rental prices near bases.
Online forums catering to military personnel are rife with stories and complaints from Armed Forces members about the lack of affordable housing near military bases where they are required to work.
The problem is exacerbated by the cyclical nature of military postings, as troops are routinely forced to relocate from one part of the country to another due to operational demands and career progression.
Younger and more junior members face an especially hard time in certain communities such as Comox, Victoria and Halifax, where housing is extremely limited or expensive.
There is also a critical shortage of housing on bases, with thousands of military members and their families currently on wait-lists while promises to build new accommodations largely stuck in neutral.
To ease the problem, the local base commander at CFB Esquimalt near Victoria has started letting new sailors live in their training quarters for months after their initial training is finished.
The focus on housing rather than overall cost-of-living reflects the main cost disparity of living in different parts of the country, Tattersall said, unlike in the past when cost variances were far greater.
“Cost of living per se is relatively equal across the country, the one thing that does stand out is that cost of housing, or that affordability of housing,” she said.
“And so that’s why we’ve focused the benefit in on that issue, because that more seems to be the real challenge for our members.”
Tying the new housing benefit to salary will ensure those who are really struggling get the help they need while cutting down on spending, she added. Armed Forces members living in military housing will also not qualify.
The new housing benefit will cost about $150 million per year, compared to $180 million for the PLD allowance.
“And so part of finding that sweet spot in terms of something that looked after members was also ensuring that we brought ourselves back within the envelope of funding that had been authorized,” she said.
The military estimates that about 28,000 Armed Forces members will qualify for the new housing benefit, which represents about 6,300 more than currently receive the PLD.
However, about 7,700 members who have been receiving the existing allowance will be cut off. While the military says most of those already live in military housing or have higher salaries, the move is likely to spark complaints.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2023.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
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