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Brantford Native Housing more than a place to stay

Brantford Native Housing goes beyond providing people with places to live.

Since 1996 the non-profit agency has been providing housing options and support for Indigenous people in Brantford.

"Our vision is pretty much that all urban Indigenous people will have a safe, supported and affordable place to live,” said executive director Alma Arguello.

The agency also has tenant services and cultural events to make the "housing feel more like a home,” said Arguello.

"We say here, a house is a physical structure in where you could be away from the elements. But as soon as you step away, you're still part of a community and we want to be part of that community if you're willing to participate."

BNH offers rental housing geared to income for low income families as well as transitional housing. The agency has almost 160 rental homes in Brantford. Half of the family members must be of Indigenous ancestry to qualify for assistance, says the BNH website.

"Our main goal is ownership and we actually have had a few houses that our tenants now own,” said Arguello.

There are plenty of success stories with many tenants using the program to rebuild their lives, she said.

One resident spoke of hitting rock bottom before climbing up again thanks to support she received at Ojistoh House, a 14-bed women’s transitional housing facility operated by BNH.

Her experience was highlighted in the organization’s annual report.

She said her previous “environment consisted of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and mental, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. I was in need of a better life, and I felt I was at my end. I hit my rock bottom, but the good thing about hitting rock bottom is you have nowhere to go but up.”

The woman established some goals during her stay at Ojistoh House.

"I stayed for seven months with a few goals in mind: get my daughter into daycare, find myself a full-time job and a new home for the two of us, and work hard on my sobriety."

A year later she and her daughter were living in a new apartment. She was sober and happy, "thanks to the Ojistoh program."

"If my story seems short and sweet, it’s not. It was hard work – hard, hard work. In seven months, I turned my and my daughter’s life around, and left unhealthy, toxic coping mechanisms and people in my past and found myself, truly found myself,” she said.

Keeping their tenants away from violence and giving them a safe space within the community is a major part of BNH, said Arguello.

They are attempting to build a facility for women, girls and LGBTQ2S people to have a safe community in which to stay.

BNH also has homeless outreach programs where they provide food to the urban Indigenous community. The agency works with the City of Brantford's encampment network to provide housing and cultural supports, said Arguello.

A point-in-time survey conducted last April connected with 250 people who were homeless in Brantford and Brant County. Just over half – 52 per cent – of 147 people interviewed identified as Indigenous.

BNH relies on funding and donations to be able to provide programs and support, especially to assist the homeless population. One of their biggest needs is food around this time of year, along with gloves and socks during the colder months, said Arguello.

Those in need of assistance or more information can visit dev.brantfordnativehousing.com/.

Ethan Braund is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter based at the Brantford Expositor. The program is funded by the Government of Canada.

Ethan Braund, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brantford Expositor