Homelessness is a difficult reality. It is taxing physically, mentally and emotionally. The scars it leaves will often last a lifetime; even for those who are able to escape its grasp. Too often, men and women living on the margins find themselves the victims of crime. Whether assault, robbery, or worse – in many cases they’re unaware of resources at their disposal to bring about justice and restitution.
Founded in 2013, the Calgary Downtown Victim Services initiative seeks to advocate for and guide victimized men and women through the labyrinth of police reports, witness statements and court appearances that checker their pathway to healing. It can be a tireless, but ultimately worthwhile process. One that is beginning to flower some promising fruits for the labor invested.
This is one such example:
Albert* recently arrived at the Calgary Drop-In Centre in search of a hot meal and a place to rest his head. As he walked through the door, the first thing our front line staff noticed were the excessive cuts, bruises and swelling on his face. Injuries that looked far too severe to have come from a slip or fall.
When questioned about it, Albert was hesitant to provide many details, but he reluctantly admitted he was the victim of a vicious assault.
Confiding that he hadn’t reported the incident to police, Albert explained that past experiences made him skeptical about the difference it would have made.
However, our team pressed him to consider speaking with a Victim Support Worker and sharing his story. They assured him that regardless of what happened, he deserved to have a voice, and the program would do their best to advocate for him.
Pensively, Albert agreed.
In his first meeting with Victim Services, Albert provided a more detailed account of what happened. He explained how he had just been released from the hospital. That he was jumped from behind by three men – none of whom he knew. He also admitted that he had been drinking that day. Coupled with his aboriginal heritage and past interactions with law enforcement, he felt the cards were stacked against him. He didn’t think his story would be taken seriously.
But out team gave him their assurance they would do everything they could to help him out. They outlined a plan that included, first and most importantly, a trip to a Calgary Police station to fill out a report. They explained that they would be with him every step of the way, that they would guide him through filling out the paperwork, and be by his side as he gave his statement of the events.
Things went smoother than Albert could have imagined. The investigating officer compassionately listened to his story and shared his remorse that senseless violence had victimized yet another vulnerable citizen. He assured Albert that they would do their best to ensure the attackers would be brought to justice before someone else got hurt. It may have been small, but Albert treasured that peace of mind nonetheless.
Once they finished at the police station, the Victim Support Worker then guided Albert through completing and submitting a Financial Benefits package. He has since received a settlement.
Through this process he describes being humbled by the experiences he’s had, not just with the Care Staff at the Calgary Drop-In Centre and the Victim Support Worker assigned to his case – but also to the police and the justice system on the whole. Though he was originally a voiceless victim of a random act of violence – by the end he felt empowered and that he mattered.
“I went through a very difficult and painful situation,” Albert explained, “But that was the largest sum of money I have ever received. I’m giving most of it to my daughter who needs it much more than I do.”
This case shows positive outcomes both for this victim, and the community at large. Calgary Police Services were able to advance their investigation. The victim received compensation from the Victims of Crime Fund, but more importantly had a very positive experience with the police, and the justice system.
*The name of the victim has been changed to protect his identity.