Assaults leaving downtown with ‘unduly’ bad rap

By Sarah Stone
June 11, 2014 - 6:33am

Almost two weeks after Marlene Bird was assaulted near the Margo Fournier Center, a suspect has not been charged and some in the community are still on edge.

Mayor Greg Dionne, who is the former councillor of that ward, as well as the former manager of the Gateway Mall, which is located near the scene of the incident, said downtown has an “unduly” bad rap.

“It is not as bad as people make it out to be, simply because I have represented that area and now represent the city and our focus is making everyone in our community safe and I know, for example, on this incident with Marlene Bird that … we have every means going to solve this case,” Dionne said.

He added a lot of the danger in the downtown is more about perceptions than facts. According to statistics released by the Prince Albert Police Service, assaults in Zone 8 (the zone Bird was found June 1) has actually dropped from 2012 to 2013 by 20.8 per cent.

“I walk (that area) every night. I actually lived, where this incident happened; I actually lived a block and a half away. I could see from my condo, is actually where she was found and so I’ve never had an incident in that area,” Dionne said. “It’s like every other downtown—we all have our issues and we’re working on them.”

Homeless community easy “prey”

Bird has been known to use the services at the YWCA’s Our House in Prince Albert for things like showers, clothing, phone use and laundry, with staff and other users saying she is well-liked.

According to Dionne, those who are homeless have been targeted by others in the same situation.

“It angers me because lots of times it’s within; it’s within that group that they do it to each other, which just shocked me because they are in the same group. You would think they would unite and sort of come together and sort of take care of each other, but in that group that is not the case,” he explained, saying there is the odd exception.

However, YWCA’s chief executive officer Donna Brooks said this is completely untrue, and rather it is the homeless who are targeted in general.

“That is not the case— it’s generally not how it happens … How can you even assume that?” Brooks said.

“Homeless people actually are very tight-knit community; they’re kind of like brothers and sisters, they’re one big family. They rarely attack each other, in fact they’re more apt to support each other then they are to attack each other.”

At this point, she said she hasn’t heard anything about the assailant being homeless or otherwise.

Since the assault Brooks has heard rumblings that people are concerned for their safety right now, both within the general public and the homeless community.

“This person has not been caught and because police are still investigating there’s also not a lot of details available, so people don’t know—was this a random thing? Was it a random attack? … Or was it an attack specifically targeted towards Marlene? Or was it an attack specifically targeted towards women? We don’t know, nobody knows, so there is a sense of nervousness out there,” Brooks said.

Like Dionne, she admits the downtown area does get a bad reputation, but said it’s no different than any other city.

“I think anywhere in an urban core in any city you’re probably safer to travel where there’s other people. You know, if any time you’re in a situation where you’re alone it could be dangerous,” Brooks said.

As for a solution she would like to see leaders educate themselves about homelessness and about violence against women. Brooks did add there are a lot educated leaders out there as well; pointing out that the current provincial and federally government have done a lot for the homelessness community in the city.

“They’re easy prey; they’re our most vulnerable people in our population,” she said.

“There also needs to be proper supports in place, there needs to be proper funding in place to support people.”

Dionne said strides are trying to be made to address these concerns. He said one was the Lookout Prince Albert program to help identify those in need of shelter and he commended the YWCA’s/Our House efforts, which opened 12 beds for intoxicated people during cold months.

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