Norma Helen Andrews was living in a dangerous Winnipeg boarding house where she constantly felt threatened, her family told reporters on Wednesday, four days after her body was found.
Known as Bambi to close friends and family, the 28-year-old was found dead inside the home on Balmoral Street, between Sargent and Cumberland avenues, on Saturday afternoon.
Police have not released any information on how the mother of three young boys died but they have labelled it a homicide.
“Our hearts are broken. This is a very difficult time for us,” Andrews’ stepmother Amber Scott said through a voice trembling with sobs.
“It’s hard to describe what we are feeling.”
The family met with reporters on Wednesday at the downtown Winnipeg offices of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, a political advocacy group that represents dozens of northern Manitoba First Nations and more than 72,000 First Nations people.
Scott said Andrews “had her struggles” and reached out for help from institutions and systems, “but they failed her.”
“She did not have the support she needed. She did seek out help several times in the past and was rejected,” Scott said.
Andrews looked for somewhere else to live but didn’t receive any help from government agencies, her stepmother said.
“The welfare system needs to look at their policies on where people must live,” Scott said.
“She had told us numerous times about concerns about the boarding house where she was living. People were climbing through her windows and kicking in her door.
“Norma was concerned for her safety. She was scared.”
Her children had been apprehended by Child and Family Services.
“The lack of support that Norma received after her children were in care, they [CFS] played a big part in a lot of struggles that she had,” said Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls liaison unit manager for MKO.
Andrews received no help in securing adequate housing, she said.
“Income and employment assistance failed Norma, shelters that provide refuge from domestic violence failed Norma, as well as different service providers who provide access to individuals who are struggling with many different things in their lives failed Norma.”
The amount she was receiving from employment and income assistance was a barrier to adequate housing, and she never found the wraparound support services she needed, Anderson-Pyrz said.
“I don’t think that Indigenous women and girls should have to be forced to live in areas that are not safe.”
Andrews was raised in Manto Sipi Cree Nation — also known as God’s River— but left the community for Oxford House when she was 15, eventually moving to Winnipeg.
Many of her relatives live in northern Manitoba or further east in Thunder Bay, so she lived on her own in the city.
“There’s a lot of emotions right now going through me,” said Andrews’ father Larry, who was initially supposed to speak first at the news conference Wednesday but couldn’t bring himself to it.
“There’s lot of stuff going through my mind. I don’t want nothing like this to happen to anyone else.”
It’s the third death of a young mother from God’s River in the past two months, according to a band councillor who spoke Wednesday with the family.
“Two in Winnipeg and one in our community of Gods River,” said John Ross.
“It brings the community together and brings more awareness of what’s happening.”
The community has also received support from the MKO crisis team.
Scott said family and friends desperately hope whoever is responsible for Andrews’ death will be caught and brought to justice.
“Norma’s life mattered. She was loved by many people and she was very important to us.”