Local Indigenous organizations come together on homelessness project

·3 min read

Seven local Indigenous organizations have developed a project to support Indigenous individuals who are at risk of homelessness.

The Village Project is set to design and construct 22 tiny homes located near the Circle of Life Thunderbird House to accommodate larger families and support family reunification.

Led by Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, the project is also supported by six other Indigenous organizations including End Homelessness Winnipeg, and guided by Indigenous Elders, with services based on Indigenous approaches and models.

“This project came from a recommendation from the Kikininaw Oma - Unsheltered Strategy Report which recommended that there needs to be a creation of housing for those who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Winnipeg,” said Lucille Bruce, President and CEO of End Homelessness Winnipeg on Friday.

Other organizations that would be working on the project are Eagle Urban Transition Centre, Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre, Ka Ni Kanichihk and Thunderbird House.

“We have engaged with the people directly living in the encampments, Indigenous Elders as well as our six Indigenous partners in designing and envisioning this Village Project,” said Bruce.

“They were fully engaged in giving their thoughts and ideas to make sure it meets the needs of people who are unsheltered and living in those encampments.”

Indigenous people make up more than 12% of Winnipeg’s residents, and over one-third of Manitoba’s Indigenous population lives in the city.

However, the Indigenous people have poverty rates twice as high, as well as homelessness rates six times as high compared to the city’s average. According to a news release from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Manitoba Office, these numbers are due to 150 years of government policies that suppressed Indigenous peoples’ traditional economic, cultural and governance institutions.

As well, Indigenous lands seized for resource extraction and separated children from their families with the goal of forced assimilation are also factors that contribute to Indigenous homelessness.

“In terms of Indigenous people, the last point-of-time count done in 2018 found that more than two-thirds of those experiencing homelessness in Winnipeg were Indigenous,” said Bruce.

“Of those two-thirds nearly 80% identified as First Nations and 15% of those as Metis. Indigenous people are disproportionally represented when it comes to being homeless.”

Homelessness has higher rates of complicating health factors and disabilities that can place them at greater risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19.

First Nation people make up approximately 10% of Manitoba’s population but account for about a quarter of COVID-19 hospitalizations and close to half of those in intensive care units.

Currently, funding for the project is being sought after. Construction is estimated to begin early next year with occupancy being in the fall of 2021.

Earlier this year, the City of Winnipeg released their Winnipeg Comprehensive Housing Needs Assessment noting that more than 700 affordable housing units will have to be created each year for the next decade to address that need in the city.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun