‘Maybe Kayla will make a difference’ Mother grieves daughter found in city bus shack
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
A heartbroken mother says her 27-year-old daughter, who died after being found in a Winnipeg bus shelter Monday, was a kind and outgoing person who had wanted to make changes to her life.
Kayla Rae appeared to be OK two weeks ago, when her mother and some of her siblings last saw her during a visit to Winnipeg.
When outreach workers found her lying under blankets on the floor of a heated Winnipeg Transit shelter at Goulet Street and Tache Avenue in St. Boniface, around 1:45 p.m. Monday, she was unresponsive.
“Everybody here is still in shock. We’re still in a daze,” said her mother, Joanne Rae, in a phone interview from her home in North Spirit Lake First Nation in northwestern Ontario. “My kids said, ‘We just saw her and now she’s gone.’”
She wanted to take her daughter back to the remote community, which is accessible only by plane and winter road, but Kayla didn’t have the identification needed to board a flight last month.
Kayla, who lived with a relative in Winnipeg, told her family she wanted to move home to North Spirit Lake and overcome drug addiction, her mother said.
“For two years, she’s been trying to get sober. She was fighting to try to make it,” said Joanne Rae, who is waiting for autopsy results to learn more about what caused her daughter’s death.
Kayla was found alone in the shelter during an extreme cold snap. Environment Canada recorded a temperature of -20 C and a windchill of -27 at The Forks.
Drug paraphernalia was found next to her, said the street outreach team that found her and called 911.
Joanne Rae hopes her daughter’s death leads to change and more support for people who are in a similar situation.
“I said (to my boyfriend), maybe Kayla will make a difference for her friends. Maybe they will do something for them,” she said through tears.
She thought someone was playing a joke on her when she was informed about her daughter’s death early Tuesday.
She was told Kayla had suffered cardiac arrest. She was surprised when she learned her daughter was discovered in a bus shelter.
Joanne Rae thinks her daughter was with friends in the shelter before she was discovered.
“She wasn’t (living) on the street when it happened,” her mother said.
“Maybe Kayla will make a difference for her friends. Maybe they will do something for them.”–Joanne Rae
She said Kayla had a room at an aunt’s home.
Kayla had struggled with drug addiction after witnessing a hit-and-run collision that killed her cousin in North Spirit Lake several years ago, her mother said.
“She chased her addiction to the city from the reserve to numb her pain from what she witnessed,” said Joanne Rae. “Ever since then, she’s been traumatized, and that’s how it all began.
“She got lost in her trauma. She had stuff going on before this.”
Kayla worked various jobs before leaving North Spirit Lake, which is home to about 400 people and is roughly 200 kilometres east of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary.
She was a cashier, a mental health worker and had helped students in a school, her mother said.
After she moved to Winnipeg about five years ago, her mother rarely heard from her for the first two-and-a-half years.
Joanne Rae said she searched for her daughter, without any luck, during her visits to the city in the early years.
She recalled her daughter’s kindness and sense of humour.
“(Kayla) was always willing to help somebody,” she said. “She liked to joke around. She didn’t beat around the bush.”
In her teens, Kayla attended Children of the Earth High School in Winnipeg, but returned to North Spirit Lake.
“(Kayla) was always willing to help somebody… She liked to joke around. She didn’t beat around the bush.”–Joanne Rae
Joanne Rae said she encouraged her daughter to return to school, but she wasn’t ready.
Her death is the latest tragedy for her loved ones.
Her cousin was buried Sunday, after dying of an overdose in Thunder Bay, Ont., said Joanne Rae.
“We’ve been having so many losses. We can’t even breathe,” she said.
Staff from St. Boniface Street Links found Rae during their usual afternoon checks on vulnerable people in bus shelters and other locations.
Executive director Marion Willis described the discovery as “horrific” and tough on outreach workers.
“This is a team that actually comes into this with an experience of homelessness, drug addiction and many other challenges the people they’re serving are currently living,” she said.
Willis said staff spend time debriefing and receiving counselling after such a discovery.
The team spoke to people who were huddled in the shelter when it did its morning rounds on Monday.
“This is a team that actually comes into this with an experience of homelessness, drug addiction and many other challenges the people they’re serving are currently living.”–Marion Willis, St. Boniface Street Links
No one appeared to be inside when staff returned a few hours later.
They approached the shelter and discovered a woman and drug paraphernalia when they pulled back a pile of blankets, said Willis.
After finding a faint pulse, she said, the team administered three shots of Narcan, a medicine used in a possible or confirmed opioid overdose.
A staff member did chest compressions for seven minutes until Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service members arrived.
Kayla Rae was pronounced dead in hospital.
Willis said some unhoused people stay in the shelter overnight, while others gather during daytime hours to stay warm or hang out.
She said there is frustration and anger because deaths continue to happen in bus shelters every winter.
Following Kayla’s death, the city set up a temporary emergency warming shelter in a city-owned building in the area Tuesday.
Willis said the pop-up shelter had to turn people away after accepting 23 — eight above its capacity — Wednesday night.
“That provides some evidence of the need,” she said after the shelter closed Thursday.
Willis said there is an urgent need for a permanent warming shelter and more services for homeless people east of the Red River.
“Nobody should have to seek refuge in a Transit shelter or an ATM vestibule or be living in an encampment,” she said.
Discussions about homelessness need to shift to the city’s drug crisis and mental health, which she noted are root causes.
Willis hopes to one day see a “real plan” to tackle the crisis, with involvement from all levels of government, community partners and people who have been homeless.
A strategy must be based on prevention, intervention, enforcement and harm reduction, she said.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.