News of woman's homicide sends shockwaves through Winnipeg's homeless community

The news of the murder of a homeless woman who died from severe burns is now sending shockwaves through Winnipeg’s homeless community, and among those who work with the homeless in this city.

Winnipeg Police announced Monday morning that 41-year-old Melissa Cook from Sapotaweyak Cree Nation near the Swan River area died on Aug. 20, after being admitted to hospital with severe burns in early July, and that police are now calling her death a homicide.

At the time of her death, police said Cook had been living in Winnipeg since April, and was most recently homeless and might have been living in encampments. Police said she had also spent time at Siloam Mission and in the South Point Douglas area while in Winnipeg.

Longtime advocate for Winnipeg’s homeless community Al Wiebe, who spent years of his own life living in poverty and on the streets, said he has already spoken with some in Winnipeg’s homeless community about the homicide, and that it has left some feeling a little more vulnerable out on the streets.

“I talked to people, and the question posed to me a number of times was ‘who’s next?’” Wiebe said.

“It has a real effect on people, and it leaves the people that are already really vulnerable looking over their shoulders for sure, and some might even think about going back into shelters, because it just creates a lot more fear.”

Wiebe said the situations that many homeless people are living in often leaves them far more vulnerable to being victims of crime and violent crime.

“A lot of those people don’t even have a tent that they can sleep in, they are literally just out on the streets or in very flimsy shelters, and that leaves them so vulnerable,” he said.

He said he also worries about homeless women after something like this happens, because of how vulnerable women can often be when living on the streets.

“It’s particularly hard for women out there, and now there is that extra fear,” Wiebe said.

Wiebe now hopes that people remember that all murders are a tragedy no matter where the person who was killed came from or what they were dealing with in their own lives when they were killed, and that every murdered person leaves behind grieving and scared family and friends.

“We need to not think of these folks as just people that are homeless, and remember they are equal to all of us,” he said.

“They may be in crisis for sure, but they are equal.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun