Erin Tilling barricades herself inside her downtown apartment every night.
First, the 35-year-old hearing-impaired woman turns the deadbolt. Then she piles suitcases in the small space between the door and a wall. Finally, she carefully wedges in a chair. Tilling hopes the obstacles would be enough to prevent an intruder from forcing his way into her apartment.
Once she has taken these small steps, the slightly built woman takes out her hearing aids and settles herself for the night on a narrow cot in her living area. She keeps her skinny cat Garfield close by. The animal reacts to noises in the hallway. Tilling hopes he would alert her to danger.
"It's scary, horrifying, especially on the weekends," she says. "I'm trying to move. It's not that easy because there's no place to go."
Tilling lives in the Manitoba Housing apartment block at 375 Assiniboine Ave. Hank Lecoy, another resident, was found slain in his 16th-floor apartment Tuesday. Sheldon Tony Genaillie, 50, has been charged with second-degree murder.
But Tilling and others in the block say Lecoy's slaying isn't an isolated incident of violence. A 10th-floor resident, who says she's afraid of gang reprisals if she gives her name, often hears people fighting in the hallways, especially on the weekends.
"I don't open the door. I'm scared. I just stay in my apartment with the door locked."
She's lived in the block for three years and says she knows and trusts her immediate neighbours. In fact, she just helped her sister move into the building. You've got to live somewhere. The building is clean and the elevators work. There are obvious signs of wear, the result of many people moving in and out. The common area is tidy and nicely decorated.
Tilling's $285 rent is paid by the government, as is the rent of the other residents. She has a bachelor apartment with a private bathroom. Her two teenage children stay with her on weekends, although there's no obvious place for them to sleep.
There was a serious show of security at the block Thursday morning, where police investigators continued their work. A uniformed Manitoba Housing guard patrolled the lobby and exterior of the block before making his way upstairs for a floor-by-floor check. Tilling says that level of security is new.
"Before we never seen nothing like that. Usually it's a guy who sits in the lobby at night."
The building uses key cards. In theory, that means only residents and people they buzz in can enter the block. There are security cameras at the front and back of the building.
"People sneak in," Tilling says. "They wait until someone buzzes the door and they go in, too."
She says since the killing, visitors are more carefully screened by security. Tilling has seen people sent back outside to buzz the people they claim to be visiting.
Manitoba Housing officials say there were 78 noise and disturbance calls at the block in the past three months. Most of the noise complaints were categorized as minor. Police have been called to the building 11 times since the beginning of August.
Another serious incident, a standoff with an armed man on Oct. 17, ended peacefully, although Tilling says residents were frightened by the police presence.
In January 2009, a young woman died after falling off her apartment balcony. Her boyfriend admitted shoving her during an alcohol-and-drug-fuelled fight. He is serving 61/2 years for manslaughter.
Tilling lived in the block at the time of that killing, too.
Manitoba Housing's security branch will hold a tenant forum on Nov. 13 at the block.
Erin Tilling says meetings won't do any good.
The violence in her block ebbs and flows around the issuance of government cheques. When family allowance and welfare money comes out, so do the troubles. The end-of-the-month cheques bring more trouble because they're bigger, she says.
Not everyone on social assistance is a drinker and certainly few of them are violent. But some residents at 375 Assiniboine Ave. are terrified of what happens when the sun goes down.
A disabled woman shouldn't have to rely on a cheap chair and a watch cat to make her feel safe in government housing.