Centres deal with homeless.
On April 4, the federal government and the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres (OFIFC) agreed on a strategy to help the homeless.
They will apply $2,051,200 in funding they obtain through the National Homelessness Initiative program to address urban Aboriginal homelessness in small centres in Ontario, stated Peter Jacobs, the urban Aboriginal homelessness strategy coordinator with the OFIFC.
Twelve communities picked by the OFIFC have been targeted to receive $215,000 each. These communities are Barrie, Kapuskasing, Kenora, Kingston, London, North Bay, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, St. Catharines, Thunder Bay, Timmins and Windsor.
"The OFIFC has developed a community plan that broadly identifies Aboriginal homelessness priorities in these 12 communities. The plan is based on a series of community forums that were held in each area with a total of 79 Aboriginal and some non-Aboriginal agencies and individuals, including Aboriginal people who are homeless participating in the forums," stated Jacobs. Under the agreement, the OFIFC will continue to work with each community to develop local plans with specific priorities, agendas and projects, he added.
Funding for the initiative was provided for in the December 2001 federal budget and is built into the existing federal financial framework.
"This agreement builds on the $1 million approved for the OFIFC in April 2001 to address Aboriginal homelessness in small urban communities. Funding is made available through the Urban Aboriginal Strategy component of the government of Canada's $753 million national homelessness initiative," explained Jacobs.
Homelessness occurs in all of Ontario's urban centres.
"What surprised me while we were conducting the forums was the similarities in issues brought forward. For example, we thought that the communities in the southern part of Ontario would have different concerns from those in the North, but what we found was that the issues were very similar across the board. The objective of the Urban Aboriginal Homelessness Strategy program is to provide safe, healthy, clean environments for an extended period of time in order for individuals to make the transition to establishing a better life circumstance," said Jacobs.
Eleven of the twelve communities picked to receive funding have already designated the money to go toward existing programs. North Bay is the only community of the 12 that is using the money to develop a new program, a transition house for North Bay's Aboriginal homeless. The money is being used to purchase and renovate a property in the city, to hire a transitional support worker and to develop the initiative.
A feasibility study was conducted with respect to Aboriginal homelessness in North Bay, finding that the city, as with many other urban centres, has three types of homelessness: the visible homeless (people living on the streets with no fixed address); the invisible homeless (those people sleeping on friends and relatives' couches, or sharing accommodations); and the soon to be homeless (those who are struggling to make ends meet but can't seem to do so).
"Our goal is to get residents connected to community services such as landlords, Ontario Works, health programs, cultural and traditional programs, education programs, etc. Ideally, we hope to establish a transition period of four to six weeks. We are not establishing a hotel or hostel or a rooming house. There will be a reasonable time limit given to the residents where the staff will help them to connect to the services in North Bay that they need to get on their feet," explained Art Parke, acting executive director of the North Bay Indian Friendship Centre.
"Our initial plans are to be able to house three individuals at a time but we will be able to accommodate six once we are fully operational. The facility however, will not be a co-ed, the house could be all men or it could be all women or it could be one family. What we are hoping for is to meet the needs on a monthly basis say 20 people in the course of a year---one or two per month--then I think that we are fulfilling our mandate.
"The location that we have in mind is perfect because of its proximity to the services that we can offer. We do have the funding to provide residents with a worker, transportation on a needs basis, etc.
"This is a new for North Bay and to a degree it will be a learning process for us (the friendship centre). We are excited about this project, it's been a long time coming, and there is a definite need in North Bay to better meet the needs of the Aboriginal homeless. However, we are kind of staying open and not restricting ourselves to any one niche," stated Parke.
Mike Harris' Progressive Conservative government established the provincial homelessness initiative fund, which made funds available by downloading them to the Ontario municipalities to distribute. However, no funding has yet been designated to address Aboriginal homelessness. The past Ontario government was largely silent on the issue of Aboriginal homelessness; when asked specific questions government representatives would refer queries to other organizations. With the federal government currently working with numerous organizations across Canada to address the issue of homelessness and with the OFIFC, in particular, in Ontario working to reduce urban Aboriginal homelessness, it is yet to be seen if the Ontario government under premier-elect Ernie Eves will take similar steps to work with Aboriginal organizations to combat the growing problem.
Parke expects the transition house in North Bay to be operating in July.
BY ABBY COTE