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This article was published 24/8/2018 (759 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba Housing tenants aren't surprised to hear that security at their North End housing complex responded to more than twice as many safety complaints last year compared to the year before.
Documents obtained through a freedom-of-information request show that in 2016 security responded to 118 safety incidents at Lord Selkirk Park. In 2017, security responded to 249 safety incidents. In just the first six months of 2018, security had already responded to 102 incidents.
Those data refer to incidents at both 269 Dufferin Ave., an apartment block, and the rest of the complex, which is made up of single family units.
"That totally lines up with what I’m seeing and it makes me feel like I'm not crazy," said long-term tenant Tom Kowalsky. "I’ve been walking around going 'This is getting worse.' By looking at those figures, all I can think is it’s really getting worse."
A Manitoba Housing spokesperson previously told the Free Press that the province has made large investments in these properties.
Residents, however, are not seeing any improvements.
On July 1, Kowalsky was stabbed while assisting police nab a break-and-enter suspect and later threatened with eviction after he raised safety concerns.
Following a mid-July Free Press article about the incident and safety concerns in the housing complex, Kowalsky said he temporarily saw an increase in security at his home. He said he saw a handful of foot patrols in the following weeks. He saw more Manitoba Housing security guards speaking with the contract security guards who work onsite.
But that's dried up, Kowalsky claims. "The foot patrols stopped."
In response to questions about what the increased numbers mean and what can be done to prevent trespassing, a Manitoba Housing spokesperson provided this statement:
"The two properties in question have security on site twelve hours per day, which is standard for Manitoba Housing properties with an increased number of reports. Improved reporting of issues allows Manitoba Housing to make better assessments based on data. Tenants and staff have the responsibility to report incidents of trespassing, and Manitoba Housing will issue warnings or call in law enforcement where appropriate."
While the data show security have been responding to more incidents since 2016, what actually constitutes a response is another question, Kowalsky said.
"I believe their interpretation of responding — and now I’m holding my hands up in quotation marks — is a heck of a lot different than my interpretation of responding, like actually entering the building, walking the floors, seeing what’s going on when someone calls so concerned," Kowalsky said. "I don’t believe those are realistic figures… junk stats as my old high school teacher would call it."
The overwhelming majority of incidents are people trespassing — in 2016, 79 of the 118 incidents. In 2017, 162 of the 249 incidents were trespassing.
But security's response to those people trespassing doesn't wash for Kowalsky.
"If someone was going around this building every 15, 20 minutes, and their job was to remove little pieces of stone and wood blocks that are holding the door open (so people can trespass)," Kowalsky said. "The problem would be solved... You would think that would be a really simple solution."
When Manitoba Housing does arrive, as opposed to on-site contract security, he doesn't see them do much.
"They’re just coming in response to something, not seeing anything spilling out into the parking lot and doing what a lot of people would do — in a way, I don’t really blame them. It’s a frightening building," Kowalsky said.
"Are we are in the middle of a zombie apocalypse movie — did we walk right onto the set? Come here at two in the morning and see what’s going on," Kowalsky said, referring to the methamphetamine epidemic in Winnipeg as a whole and in his neighbourhood.
Kowalsky isn't the only resident concerned with safety at the housing complex.
Cal Sinclair has lived in Lord Selkirk Park Tower for nearly six years. He's been threatened by trespassers. There have been murders and stabbings in or nearby the complex since he moved in, he said.
"I’ve been threatened, and they seem to come out of the woodwork," he said, referring to trespassers. "It’s unsafe for us to deal with. You can’t and you don’t want to get into any physical confrontations with them."
He's trying to work with other residents to raise their concerns with their MLA.
Sinclair said he spoke with MLA Bernadette Smith, who said she would send a letter outlining the residents' concerns to the minister responsible for housing. (Smith's office wasn't able to confirm this or provide a statement from Smith by end of day Friday.)
As for security's response to safety concerns, Sinclair thinks more could be done. "They tend to respond — as to being effective or really doing anything about it... they don’t seem to have the power or the authority to do anything," Sinclair said.
Sinclair would like to see a community policing presence in and around the complex, he said.
Another resident wrote a petition to send to Smith about a month after Kowalsky was stabbed in the apartment courtyard. The Free Press obtained a copy of the petition, but isn't naming its author because it wasn't able to speak with him.
It calls for security improvements and better communication, as well as a plan to deal with excessive substance abuse and crime.
"We, the residents of Lord Selkirk Housing Complex and Tower wish it to be known that the majority of us are not bad apples. We do not live here because we wish to take advantage of society. We live here because we need to," it reads in part. "We desire a healthy, safe subsistence environment where we can maintain our lives or get on our feet."
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.