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A place of their own

Candace House, located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a new and first-of-its-kind organization providing a homelike day refuge to victims, survivors, and loved ones of violent crime navigating the court process. The Healing Haven at Candace House offers access to the amenities of a home, including a full-sized eat-in kitchen, formal dining room, a spacious and comfortable living room, kids’ area, a private washroom, unlimited WiFi and Netflix. Access to holistic and culturally appropriate services and referrals are available, as well as victim support services, which are provided in a way that promotes empowerment and resilience. Candace House also endeavors to contribute to leadership in the victim services sector through the effective and strategic use of collaborative partnerships with government and other social services.

Candace House is the vision of Wilma and Cliff Derksen following the murder of their 13-year-old daughter, Candace, in 1984. Candace went missing on her way home from school in Winnipeg, her body found in a shack not far from her home seven weeks later. It took 22 years before a suspect was identified, found guilty in 2011, but then re-tried and found not guilty in 2017, leaving Candace’s murder legally unsolved. As Wilma, Cliff, and their family spent over 200 days in the Winnipeg Law Courts, Wilma envisioned a place where victims, survivors, and loved ones could go and call their own, connect with supports, and receive comfort, nourishment, and timely information to help in healing and recovery.

Candace House opened its doors to its very first family in November 2018. Since then, they have supported over 300 unique family members and friends following the criminal death of 35 different loved ones. While the focus is on supporting families impacted by all types of death due to crime, the majority of families they work with have had a loved one murdered.


Support from the Gay Lea Foundation

Candace House received $5,000 from the Gay Lea Foundation in January 2020 to help them in purchasing food, snacks, and beverages for their Healing Haven. “

For families who spend weeks and sometimes months attending court proceedings, the out-of-pocket costs for food can become astronomical, let alone for healthy meals,” says Cecilly Hildebrand, Executive Director of Candace House.

“These expenses are on top of paying for daily parking, other travel and accommodations, reduced wages with taking time off work, and paying for a babysitter, as well as the tremendous costs associated with health impacts.”

To help reduce the economic impact of attending court proceedings, Candace House wants to ensure that families attending court proceedings and accessing their Healing Haven have access to healthy, nutritious meals free of charge. As such, the grant from Gay Lea Foundation has supported Candace House in stocking their cupboards with non-perishables and purchasing fresh, family-favourite foods, such as soup and sandwiches, pasta, ingredients to make homemade bannock, and fruit and vegetables.

Hildebrand says that having healthy food available for Candace House guests has been one of the most significant and impactful parts of the Healing Haven.

“Most questions families have come up during the lunch hour, when there is time to process the information they’ve heard,” she says. “By providing lunch at Candace House, we ensure that families have a safe place to debrief difficult information, ask questions, and escape the watchful eye of the public. Having access to the nourishment means they can gain the energy needed to return to court, all while surrounded by compassionate and caring staff.”


The Impact of COVID-19

Candace House made the difficult decision to close their doors to the public in mid-March due to COVID-19. Court proceedings were also postponed, leaving families further suspended in trauma as they had to now wait longer for trials to commence. Even though the physical space was closed, Candace House continued to connect with families and offer support virtually. Not only were families dealing with the stress of their court cases being postponed, they were dealing with the collective trauma everyone was experiencing with job loss, homeschooling children, and a general state of unrest due to the unknown future of COVID-19.

Happily, Candace House was able to reopen its doors in June as court proceedings began to pick up again. Over the past few weeks, there have also been some extraordinary advancements in how Candace House is able to offer services to families. With restrictions now imposed on the number of people who can attend proceedings in person, technology has been implemented to allow for live video streaming of proceedings from court to Candace House through a partnership with Manitoba Justice Victim Services and the Winnipeg Law Courts. Families are now able to watch proceedings, without worrying about who can attend, all from the comfort and safety of their home-away-from-home. Between court postponements due to COVID-19 and the fact that Winnipeg experienced a record-breaking number of murders in 2019, Candace House expects to be busier than ever in the coming months. Having healthy food options available is especially important as families now consistently spend all day at Candace House.

“With us being back in the office, court being back in session, and our space booking up into the winter, we are honoured to have this support from the Gay Lea Foundation to ensure that our families continue to have access to the critical nourishment they need,” says Hildebrand.

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