A project to house and heal people experiencing homelessness in Winnipeg that has faced delays and construction resets should be opening this spring.
Astum Api Niikinaahk (Niikinaahk), previously known as The Village, is slated to open its 22 low-barrier bachelor units adjacent to the Circle of Life Thunderbird House in March—nine months later than originally planned. Project coordinator Melissa Stone of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre says COVID-19 was the culprit, causing material shortages and ballooning costs that resulted in a decision not to use converted shipping containers for the $6 million federally funded project.
The new name, which means come sit at our home, “was gifted to us by one of our Elders in the community, Charlotte Nolin. She did a pipe ceremony and that’s what came in her dream,” says Stone.
Stone and a small team of five are now working out of the Thunderbird House to build relationships with potential Niikinaahk tenants staying in encampments and emergency shelters.
“Folks that are wanting to not be living on the streets anymore are definitely our priority, regardless if they are using substances,” she says. Individuals housed at Niikinaahk will not have to pay out of pocket as rent will be limited to whatever amount they receive through EIA and the Canada-Manitoba Housing Benefit.
Once the homes open, Stone’s team will grow to 17, with at least two support staff on site 24/7. They will offer culturally safe programming and ceremonies in a communal space called The Lodge to heal, grow life skills, and move people forward on a journey towards independence.
“They're going to tell us what they're needing, and then we're going to try, together, to start that journey.”
She says once people are ready to leave Niikinaahk, whether that takes a few months or five years, a dedicated staff member will support them to make that move—helping them find a home, make the transition and succeed in life beyond.
“They may be physically leaving Niikinaahk, but they're always able to call us and we can still support them once they move into the community.”
Stone says “Elders, knowledge-keepers and lived and living experienced” have guided the project from the start, giving advice on everything from needed programming and support to the kinds of doors and windows needed for site safety.
“They made it very clear to us when we were designing everything that they needed to feel safe.”
The project is Indigenous led, with Ma Mawi supported at the helm by six partner organizations—End Homelessness Winnipeg, EAGLE Urban Transition Centre, Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, Aboriginal Health & Wellness Centre, Ka Ni Kanichihk and Thunderbird House.
Each of the 22 bachelor units will include a trundle bed that converts into a couch; two-person dining table; kitchen with a mini-fridge/freezer combo, microwave and two-burner stove, sink and small countertop; and a bathroom with toilet, shower and sink. Eighteen of the units are 142 square feet, while four accessible units are 364 square feet. The Lodge will include an office, kitchen, bathrooms and space for programs and gatherings.
Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf