Setting up the modular homes

  • 22 lots have been identified in Attawapiskat, on which sit some old derelict homes that have to be demolished.
  • Several sites have already been excavated through the frozen ground to expose the utility pipes.
  • Gravel is being poured and wooden structures called cribs are also being built. The homes will sit on top of these.
  • The first home could be placed as early as Friday, then it will likely take a couple of weeks to get the utilities hooked up and proper occupancy permits done.
  • Workers are dealing with the winter elements and the remote location, so some delays are expected.

Choosing who gets to live in the 22 new modular homes in Attawapiskat is proving to be just as difficult as breaking through the frozen ground to prepare the building sites.

The modular homes are being set up to ease a severe housing crisis on the reserve.

The new houses can't come fast enough for Wayne Fireman, who, along with his four children, was forced out of his home by mould. Fireman and his family are staying at the healing lodge the federal government converted into bedrooms as an emergency measure.

"They tell us we are on the list," Fireman said.

Monique Sutherland, band housing manager, is making decisions about who will get to move into the new houses.

"At this moment we are going through the list of people — families of four, single people, elders, couples — that were identified as living in the shelter and the tent frames," Sutherland said.

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Stella Weesk, her daughter and granddaughter live in this dorm room. It's part of mining camp trailers donated a few years ago by DeBeers. At total of 90 people live in the complex.

But Stella Weesk is not one of them.

The Attawapiskat resident lives with her daughter and granddaughter — both less than a year old — in a room no larger than a university dorm.

"There's no heaters in the hallway," Weesk said. "Whenever my room is hot, and I take them out, they get sick, they catch a cold. That door right here … there's a big draft."

This room is part of a network of trailers that ordinarily serve as a work camp at a mine. In this community, they house 90 people who have nowhere else to go.

The housing manager for the band said those who were living in tent frames and shacks with no plumbing are the first priority  — and that's enough people to fill all 22 homes.

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The new modular homes are going to help people living in shacks and tentframes like this one. Attawapiskat's housing manager says 300 houses are needed to solve overcrowding problems.

Sutherland said there are some 300 people like Weesk on her waiting list.

"It's very difficult, especially when people are crying for help," Sutherland said.

The news that this crowded room will continue to be home has Weesk making her desperate plea directly.

"I'm asking the government to help me," she said. "My name is Stella Weesk. Whoever you are, the government. Please help me and give me a house, for my children's health."

It's expected to take until at least the end of April for all 22 of the new homes to be ready.

The federal government purchased the homes after the Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency last fall.

The homes were built in Fredericton by Maple Leaf Homes, a company that specializes in cold climate construction. In the past, the company has built homes for mining camps in Northern Canada.