Chippewas partner with London agency to teach job skills, build homes at same time

·3 min read

Affordable housing built by the community, for the community is the concept behind a new project underway at Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, about 30 kilometres southwest of London.

The First Nation and Pathways Employment Help Centre, a London employment agency, are tackling the First Nation's housing shortage and developing capacity with a new program that teaches college-level construction skills while building "micro-homes" for individuals in the community.

"We have a lot of houses that have not been built by citizens of our community. So, what's important about this project is that (Chippewa members) will be able to complete the program to learn the skills they need, to see themselves as those people in the community building our homes," Chippewas of the Thames First Nation Chief Jacqueline French said.

It also enhances that sense of community pride. "That sense of, 'I built that house,'" she said.

The first of its kind in the London region, the program – called building new futures together – combines affordable housing and hands-on skills by training participants to construct a home from the ground up.

Keithera Riley is one of 19 participants — nearly all from Chippewas of the Thames First Nation — helping to build the first two 400-square-foot (36-square-metre) micro-homes. She said she jumped at the opportunity to get involved because she wanted to be part of the solution to the housing shortage facing her community.

"It's a great skill to learn, and I just really want to help my community. I think this is what's needed," she said.

Construction at the site, located across from Nimkee NupiGawagan Healing Centre on Muncey Road, began earlier this month and is expected to wrap by mid-November.

Long-term, the goal is to build up to 25 homes during the next few years.

"We're starting with two, but the end goal here and the vision is to see a whole community of micro-homes," French said.

Pathways and Chippewas of the Thames First Nation received a $342,000 grant from the London Community Foundation to help fund the first two years of the project.

Participants in the program not only help contribute to the First Nation but gain college-level training.

"It's college certificates that they're getting, so at the end of this, they can go and work anywhere for anyone," whether that be for a new home, renovation or framing crew, said Corrina MacDonald, director of skills training at Pathways.

"By bringing the training on-site, they're able to build a home for their elders to inhabit, for their youth to inhabit, and to be able to give back to the community that is so very important to them," she said.

The homes will be earmarked for individuals who don't have the resources to afford their own home.

"Maybe it's a single person," for example, French said. "Maybe it's a person who has been experiencing homelessness."

She added that many of the First Nation's homes are overcrowded, with multiple families living in buildings not equipped to house that many people.

Kim Smith, director of employment and training for Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, started researching the concept of micro-homes five years ago. Speaking to the small crowd gathered at the groundbreaking Tuesday, she described working on the project as a "dream."

"There's overcrowding in our homes down here," she later said in an interview. "I would love to see our single people have somewhere to call home."

cleon@postmedia.com twitter.com/CalviatLFPressThe Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press