By Marc Lalonde
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A lobby group advocating for the urban Indigenous population in Canada’s cities is looking to tackle the housing crisis faced by many in the margins of society and solutions must be found now, said the organization’s national vice-chief.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) is determined to find concrete solutions to the national Indigenous housing crisis at the 2023 National Housing Engagement Session held Monday and Tuesday in Vancouver.
The phenomenon of urban Indigenous populations living on the street and in tenuous housing situations is only getting worse, the organization said.
“At any given time more than 37,000 Indigenous people find themselves homeless, and tens of thousands of households are in dire need of repair,” said CAP National Chief Elmer St. Pierre. “Those realities are unacceptable in a country as rich as Canada. No one should have to live without a safe roof over their head.”
Participants spent two days hearing from experts about the various Indigenous housing needs in different regions across the country. It focused on solutions and a path forward to meeting the housing needs of communities in urban, rural, and northern areas.
“Urban Indigenous people face a unique set of challenges when it comes to finding safe and affordable housing,” says CAP National Vice-Chief Kim Beaudin. “It’s time we generate a solid housing plan that takes into account our diverse cultures and challenges to ensure the caretakers of these lands have a safe place to live.”
From data collected by Employment and Social Development Canada
(ESDC) it is estimated that between 34,400 and 45,300 Indigenous persons used an emergency shelter in 2016.
31 percent of shelter users identified as Indigenous.
In comparison, around five percent of the total Canadian population identified as Indigenous, highlighting the overrepresentation of Indigenous people within the homeless population.
Beaudin said the situation has only been exacerbated in the last 12 months.
“It’s only gotten worse,” said the national vice-chief in an interview from Vancouver Tuesday morning. “We did a walk-around yesterday and It’s just gotten worse in a year. There are more tents, more shelter structures and homeless people living on the street. It’s absolutely mind-boggling.”
He added it’s not just in Vancouver where people are faced with this type of crisis.
“It’s not just Vancouver. It’s Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Ottawa, it’s everywhere, and it’s a reflection of the colonial attitudes of the government towards Indigenous people,” he said.
“I’m particularly annoyed with Vancouver city council because their solution seems to be `let’s take these people off the streets and put them in jail,’ which is absolutely ridiculous. Indigenous people are already over-represented in the justice system. Now, it’s a crime to be poor? There needs to be some concrete government action.”
Marc Lalonde is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with IORI:WASE. The LJI program is federally funded.