Community calls for changes to Thompson shelter after child witnesses parent’s assault

People in Thompson, Man., are calling for changes to the city’s shelter — and soon-to-be sobering centre — after a man was attacked in the area Monday night. 

Jennifer Devereaux said her six-year-old daughter Brydee was excited to go for her first bike ride of spring with her stepfather nearby at the elementary school. The two headed to Wapanohk Community School just before 6 p.m. when she said her daughter’s stepfather, Zachary Beaver, was attacked by a man. 

“She came home in a state of terror,” Devereaux said. 

Devereaux said the man, who they believed was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, kept approaching Beaver, swearing at him and stumbling. Then she said he was assaulted.

A man in a beanie, black jacket and jeans standing next to a little girl wearing glasses.
Jennifer Devereux said her daughter has been left shaken after seeing a man attack her stepfather while they were out biking Monday night. (Submitted by Jennifer Devereuex)

“He was literally standing there watching my daughter bike around and this guy just, basically, ran at him,” she said.

“She was terrified. She was panicked and crying and saying how scared she was.”

Devereaux said the two men scuffled and Beaver was finally about to push the man away and get their six-year-old daughter and her bike back in the car. 

As they were about to drive away, she said the man threatened Beaver, and she reported the incident to local RCMP.

Residents say there have been months of escalating violence related to the shelter, which is across the street from the school, and this latest incident reflects what many feared was going to happen when the shelter opened. 

Location and safety concerns

The expanded shelter, the Thompson Healing Centre, opened in October 2022 — but without the long-awaited sobering centre facility in place. The shelter is open 24 hours a day and doesn’t require users to be sober. 

Wapanohk Community School, which has roughly 500 students, is across the street from the shelter. 

Devereaux said the shelter attracts a large group of transient people and there are often issues outside the building that spill out into the community. 

“Intoxicated individuals, people who look not just intoxicated but probably on other drugs, staggering people,” she said “People being aggressive toward each other, swearing. Not behaviours that need to be witnessed by children in an elementary school.”

She said her biggest concern is the safety of the kids.

Many in the community agree, like Lindsay Gegenfurter, who grew up in Thompson. Gegenfurter said she and others in the community initially understood that the shelter would come with a number of safety assurances that didn’t materialize.

“What concerns me is that we were promised 24-hour security and that a privacy fence was going around the complex. Well it’s not happening. There’s still congregating in those entrances where you can still drive by and see people partying,” she said. 

She said seeing first responders outside the shelter is a regular occurrence. 

“Our ambulance and our fire hall already have a major job that they don’t need to be going there six times a day to be handling those kind of social issues when they were promised security,” she said. 

An ambulance parked on the road in front of a large building
An ambulance outside the shelter in Thompson around 1 p.m. May 3, 2023 (Submitted)

Shauna Flett said Monday’s incident angered her and shows there is not enough being done to clean up the city and keep residents safe. 

“No six-year-old child should ever have to experience something like that,” she said. “Somebody’s going to get really hurt. They’re not just fighting each other, they’re starting to hurt citizens of Thompson and we just won’t stand for it.”

Flett said the issues are highlighting bigger problems within the city. 

“We need a safe place to live, work, go about our business without hassle and it’s just it’s really deteriorated and it’s disheartening,” she said. “It’s just crazy how much this place has changed.”

For many in the community, the shelter and surrounding violence in the community reflect larger addiction issues in Thompson. Addiction experts with the Northern Health Region, which includes Thompson, estimate almost one-third of the city’s population struggles with addiction.

People in Thompson were detained under Manitoba’s Intoxicated Persons Detention Act over 1,100 times in 2022, representing over 25 per cent of the total number of intoxication detentions by RCMP in Manitoba.

Concerns impacting business

Lois Cormier, who runs Aurora Dance Academy about a block away from the shelter, said she commonly sees people fighting and drinking outside. She said the problem has pushed well beyond the shelter door and is impacting businesses like hers. 

“Our safety is really being affected,” she said. “Everyone needs a place to be able to go to get the help they need. It’s just unfortunate that it was put so close to this area.”

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak is scheduled to take over the operations of the 45-bed shelter from the Canadian Mental Health Association in August, following a decision made last week by Thompson’s community wellness and public safety advisory group.

It will be tasked with opening up the first designated sobering centre in the city.

“We were actually over there [Tuesday], you know, kind of walking on the grounds, talking to some of the participants … they had some really good suggestions for me this morning,” Kelvin Lynxleg, executive director of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak said. 

“They were telling me, ‘we want a fence put up on the front because we don’t want kids to have to see us. We don’t want them … to be exposed to what we’re doing,'” she said. 

Lynxleg said they are looking at how they can address concerns raised by the community.

I know that there’s issues. I know that the community is concerned. I know that the community is not happy to where the location of the centre is and I understand that,” she said. 

Lynxleg said she is hopeful and excited for what is to come and said they will address the concerns that have been brought forward. 

Cormier said many in town expressed concerns over the location at civic meetings before the shelter opened, but felt they weren’t heard.

“Being across the school and with residential houses just across the street,” she said. “Nobody wants to have that in their backyard. We definitely need a service like this. It is needed but it’s not the best location.”

Cormier is also calling for people in the community to attend the next council meeting and call for changes. 

“We still love our community and we need to fight for our community, but we need to do it by working together,” she said.

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