Jesse Thistle. Photo: CBC

Finally, the fact that homelessness means more than providing a physical dwelling is getting attention. At the recent CAEH (Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness) annual convention in Winnipeg, speaker Jesse Thistle talked about indigenous homelessness, and the need for Indigenous people to come home as a community.

The federal government spent millions on their Housing First/Chez Soi project in 2009. The concept was to house the homeless and then once they were housed go about finding other resources for them. First and most important was they have an address and a roof over their heads.

The government overlooked the fact that most homeless people are plagued with addiction and mental illness from childhood trauma. They also overlooked the fact that the homeless are quite often a community within a community. They may live on the streets and sleep in shelters or under bridges at night but they feel connected with their own group.

Winnipeg was chosen as one of the cities for the Housing First/Chez Soi experiment. Winnipeg has a large homeless population, many of those individuals are Indigenous, from the fall out of the residential school system and the sixties scoop. In one safe, dry facility six rooms were rented and fully furnished, including brand new televisions, microwaves etc. Within ten days the residents of those rooms were gone and so was anything that could be pawned or sold. Landlords of apartment blocks were contacted and rented apartments to the organizations managing the Housing First project. With their own apartments the homeless residents invited all their friends to move in. Finally they were all evicted.

Homelessness needs further examination to determine the different communities that make up homelessness. Then we need to develop customized solutions to address this expanding problem.

Jane Meagher
Director, Human Rights Learning
Manitobans for Human Rights Inc.