Indigenous housing provider helps Kingston's homeless rebuild their lives

·3 min read
Amanda Smith is living in one of the 19 transitional housing units in the new Tipi Moza building in Kingston. (CBC/Michelle Allan - image credit)
Amanda Smith is living in one of the 19 transitional housing units in the new Tipi Moza building in Kingston. (CBC/Michelle Allan - image credit)

Amanda Smith was living on the streets before she was able to move into one of 19 units at the new Tipi Moza apartment building in downtown Kingston, which provides short-term housing for Indigenous people.

Smith, 41, is undergoing treatment at the Kingston General Hospital oncology centre. She has had a slew of health challenges preventing her from working: cancer, tumours, gallstones, pancreatitis and dental issues requiring teeth removal.

She's currently waiting on results from a bone marrow biopsy, but just having a roof over her head and the same bed to sleep in has been a relief.

"Today, I have a beautiful place to live with help and support. I didn't know that existed as I was fevered and sick in a snow bank in January," said Smith

She can now focus on healing and chasing her dream to work in the legal industry, and help other people who are navigating homelessness.

"My health is either going to kill me flat out or I am going to stay as determined as I have been from all of my 41 years," said Smith. "If it's going to take me out, it needs to take me out. And if not, this girl is getting back on a path to success."

CBC/Michelle Allan
CBC/Michelle Allan

2nd chance for people experiencing homelessness

Kingston has one of the lowest rental vacancy rates in Ontario at 1.4 per cent while many people are unable to afford housing. More than 200 people were experiencing homelessness in the city, according to an April 2021 count by United Way, in a city with a population of about 118,000.

Of the 176 people who agreed to be surveyed, almost one-third identified as Indigenous while only about 3.4 per cent of Kingston's population identifies as Indigenous.

Tipi Moza Executive Director Winnie Peters says the transitional housing units are filling up quickly, and they expect to require a wait list soon.

"Our hope again is to get folks in off the street and find the path that they want to go down, help them with resources to get down that path and then transition out into their own," said Peters.

"Some of them want to go back to school. Some some want to go back to work ... they just need that second chance."

Residents of this new transitional housing can stay for up to four years, much longer than the typical one-year limits at many other transitional housing projects. Peters says the longer tenure allows people who are trying to start a new chapter in their lives more time to be able to make lasting change.

CBC/Michelle Allan
CBC/Michelle Allan

Getting housing 'was like a weight lifted off'

Jaylene Cardinal and Dakota Ward, who moved to Kingston from Edmonton in 2014, say providing homes for Indigenous families, even if just for a certain time period, helps people build or rebuild their lives.

The couple made the cross-country leap after hearing about another program run by Tipi Moza called rent-geared-to-income housing — with 17 homes throughout the city rented to Indigenous residents and families.

Cardinal and Ward said they stayed in a local shelter with their four children for the first month while waiting to hear if they were approved for a four-bedroom house.

Once they moved into the home, it "was like a weight lifted off ... it was actually a blessing," said Cardinal.

Back in Edmonton, Ward says their family was crammed into a tiny and expensive apartment, but Kingston provided opportunities he didn't see happening in Edmonton.

"It's a small city with big opportunities," said Ward.

Once the family settled in Kingston, they opened their own business, a local Indigenous art store called WC Creatives.

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