This column is an opinion by Shahina Siddiqui, co-founder of the Islamic Social Services Association in Winnipeg, which provides family, health and social welfare services. For more information about CBC’s Opinion sectionplease see the FAQ.

I was confused when the Winnipeg Police Union and Premier Heather Stefanson recently criticized Chief Danny Smyth for his statement about the increase in violence in our city. 

I found the chief’s comments and observations well thought out and offering a critical analysis of what is needed to assist and help.

The issues facing us today are not just policing issues. They are a reflection of where our city has failed when it comes to basic humanitarian services and honouring human dignity. 

For more than two years now, community-based social services organizations have been raising red flags. 

The impact of social isolation has brought to the surface the ailing social structure and support systems in our city.

The glaring lack of mental health services, the dwindling number of domestic violence shelters, unemployment, inflation and homelessness have increased frustration and desperation and, as a result, are eroding the social harmony and cohesion of our fair city. 

Add to this growing racism, discrimination and hate, and the horrors of colonialism against the First Nations of Turtle Island. 

Fellow Winnipeggers are being neglected, ignored and forgotten.– Shahina Siddiqui

There is also the growing right- and left-wing extremism, white supremacy, and a lack of services for those living with war trauma.

This all has created the perfect storm for the social disharmony we are witnessing today. 

I have worked with clients with all the right credentials and yet, facing racism and Islamophobia at the workplace, they’ve suffered breakdowns that have rendered them unemployable because of anxiety and depression. Their family life is impacted and has suffered.

Chronic racism in our institutions is playing havoc with our social harmony. 

Victims of hate speech and hate incidents either feel abandoned or lash out.

The lack of trust in police and political leaders is reaching a critical stage, with growing divides and uncertainty as to the role of law enforcement and justice, especially when it comes to Indigenous and racialized Winnipeggers. 

Bus shelters in Winnipeg, including in the Transcona neighbourhood, have been occupied by homeless people. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The conversation on public safety is important, but the media emphasis on increased policing as the sole solution to this situation is alarmist. It adds to fear and anger within our city and fans anti-police sentiments. 

I agree that there is policing issue when it comes to disproportionate use of force against Indigenous and racialized citizens of our city. But again, treating this as the sole issue is deflecting from the root causes. 

What we need is a citywide conversation where city council, the mayor, the province, police, social services, mental health providers and community groups come together, not to play the blame game, but to honestly examine the root causes and start addressing issues systematically. 

I chose Winnipeg to be my home, because I felt that this city had a soul.– Shahina Siddiqui

The issues run deep. Anyone driving down Portage Avenue or Broadway has seen the bus shelters jammed with people.

Did we think about what might happen if the city passed a bylaw outlawing camps near or next to bridges? The day I wrote this, I saw one of the older gentlemen from one of the bus shelters with only one shoe, cleaning the sidewalk around the bus shelter.

These fellow Winnipeggers are being neglected, ignored and forgotten by our civic leaders. They’re being denied services that are the right of every human being.

This is not only a policing issue. It is a reflection of how far our city has declined in care and compassion. 

Are any of Winnipeg’s mayoral candidates — or those running for city council — paying attention? Is this even their priority? And do they care? 

Forty-seven years ago, I chose Winnipeg to be my home, because I felt that this city had a soul. Today I am feeling stressed about how divided we have become socially, politically and geographically.

The suburban silos we live in and the isolation of the inner city have created two realities that seem disconnected and at odds.

It is not that Winnipeg lacks caring people or humanitarian, justice and peace activists. What is lacking is a vision that goes beyond self-interest, but rather, is grounded in our common humanity, guided by our core values and driven by our responsibility to each other. 

Winnipeg is hurting and time is running out. 

Can we afford to remain silent and indifferent?