Police find people ‘at their most dire’ as COVID-19 magnifies struggles of poverty

Increased isolation due to COVID-19 has also led to severe challenges impacting the health and safety of vulnerable Winnipeggers, many of whom are being encountered by Winnipeg police.

Officers recently responded to a well-being call for a senior in their 80s, who was isolated and had no money for food, according to Insp. Bonnie Emerson.

Through connections with community partners, police were able to provide the senior with an emergency food box filled with basic food staples, she said.

Officers also rounded up some donations of money from other Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) members to purchase several hundred dollars’ worth of grocery store gift certificates for the senior.

They also connected the senior to the Bear Clan, to register for that organization’s weekly food hamper program, and to the Age and Opportunity Support Services.

“The Winnipeg Police Service is proud to partner with organizations who do incredible work in various neighbourhoods throughout the city,” Emerson said.

About 40 of the emergency boxes were donated to the WPS in November 2020 by the non-profit organization Rapid Relief Team (RRT), which announced on Wednesday that another 90 were on the way.

About 40 emergency boxes were donated to the WPS in November 2020 by the Rapid Relief Team, which announced on Wednesday that another 90 were on the way. (Winnipeg Police Service)

The boxes contain dry goods, canned items and pastas that could keep a family of four going for a couple of days, said RRT director Chris Samuels.

Police say the emergency food boxes are an immediate stop-gap measure for people until they can get the long term help they require.

“We’re able to provide a one-time gift of food for people who are at their most dire,” said Emerson.

“Front-line officers have been distributing them when responding to calls involving families or individuals in crisis and experiencing food insecurity,” the WPS said in a Facebook post.

“As police officers we often find ourselves in situations that not … everyone else sees or experiences. So, when we see a need, we try to help where we can. Having access to these boxes of basic food staples had an immediate and direct impact.”

People in poverty ‘worse off’ in pandemic

Diane Redsky, executive director of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, a family resource organization in Winnipeg, said it is extremely important to emphasize how COVID-19 has magnified food and income insecurity for marginalized people.

“If you lived in poverty before COVID, you are worse off today,” she said.

“People can often take for granted that we can order things online with our credit cards then go to the store and pick it up. But the reality for many families living in Winnipeg is that there isn’t enough money, there’s no credit card and there’s definitely not a car.”

The social safety net that people relied on before COVID-19 “changed overnight,” Redsky said.

“And that has deeply impacted their health, their safety and their well-being.”

The Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre has prepared and delivered more than 100,000 emergency food kits to vulnerable families since April, she said.

“Sadly, it’s not a surprise that the Winnipeg police found an isolated person in distress,” Redsky said.

“It is those situations that community-based organizations like the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre lose sleep over and why I applaud the actions of the Winnipeg Police Service to support a vulnerable person in need and connect them to ongoing community supports.”

Redsky said she hopes the incident brings attention “to the incredible amount of work that needs to be done to reach out to others who are isolated, who are hungry, who are under extreme stress because they are worried about having a stable home with heat and something to eat.”

She urged anyone who is aware of someone who might need assistance, to contact a community-based organization.

“There is an opportunity for all of us to help,” Redsky said.

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