THE victim of a sexual assault in a downtown bus shack last week was experiencing homelessness and had been living in the shelter.
The woman, in her 50s, was in the Transit structure at Portage Avenue and Garry Street when a man she didn’t know entered just before 6 p.m. Jan. 21.
The suspect, who was intoxicated, offered her beer for oral sex, police sources told the Free Press. She said no, and the suspect then took off his pants and exposed himself. He grabbed the victim’s hair and punched her twice, sources said.
A passerby called police, who arrived and arrested the suspect.
The woman suffered minor injuries, but did not have to go to hospital.
A 38-year-old man from Winnipeg is charged with sexual assault and assault. He was released on an appearance notice; police have not made his name public.
On Tuesday, the bus shelter at Portage and Garry still showed signs of habitation, with bags of belongings along the bench.
Kris Clemens, communications manager at End Homelessness Winnipeg, called the assault terrible.
"How many tragedies does it take? How many more tragedies can a community expect to have?" she said.
(Clemens noted she did not know the assault victim had been living in the shelter, before the Free Press called Tuesday.)
"Were there not already raging, loud alarms to wake us all up with the onset of a pandemic, during which people were told to stay home to protect their health?" Clemens asked rhetorically of the need to help people living on the street.
"People experiencing homelessness are at much, much higher risk for a range of negative outcomes — risks to their safety, risks to their health, and collectively we need to address this."
That means housing for those living outside, Clemens said, with support from all levels of government.
"Until we’re able to offer people safe, dignified, private, supportive low-barrier and low-income housing options, we will continue to be placing some Manitoba residents in these very, very dangerous and precarious situations."
The president of the Winnipeg bus drivers union said the incident highlights the need to help people temporarily living in Transit shacks — and improve safety on the service overall.
"(The assault) goes to show that the longer we ignore this issue of homeless people taking shelter in the bus shelters, the more we are (allowing) violence in those places," said Romeo Ignacio, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505.
"They are humans, too. They need the same things that we need… protection, shelter from the cold. (Bus shacks are) not a place for them to stay."
On Nov. 18, 41-year-old Oghenetega Ufuoma was slain inside an Osborne Village bus shelter. Nevis Carter, 38, was charged with manslaughter.
Police said the pair were in the Transit shelter on the northeast side of River Avenue and Osborne Street when Ufuoma was attacked.
Weeks before he was arrested in the homicide, Carter was in a Winnipeg courtroom, where a judge heard there were no resources available to support the mentally ill man in the community, the Free Press reported.
"The biggest hurdle for Mr. Carter seems to be from the time he gets out of custody to him being put in touch with supports in the community, as he typically falls back on drugs or a homeless lifestyle very quickly," prosecutor Kellie Stashko told court in October.
In 2015, three men experiencing homelessness were beaten to death downtown over the course of two weeks. John Paul Ostamas, who had also lived on the street, was sentenced in 2016 for three counts of second-degree murder.
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.