The Attawapiskat First Nation in northeastern Ontario says its housing shortage has turned into a crisis.

In the isolated James Bay community of Attawapiskat, houses are so overcrowded that some families are living in shacks and tent frames. As the temperature drops, the community is calling for help.

Lisa Marie Linklater is bracing for another winter in a tent frame.

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Lisa Marie Linklater and Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence said they are not looking forward to living in tent frames like this one, for a third winter in a row. ((Allison Dempster/CBC))

"There's six of us — four of my kids, me and my husband," she said. "We have no washroom, no running water. It's hard, especially in winter times."

There's a wood stove and a couple of mattresses on the plywood floor. To get electricity, they run extension cords from the house next door.

Houses need major renovations

Her mother, Stella Kioke Koostachin, is so frustrated with the situation, it brings tears to her eyes.

She has been writing to First Nations leaders and Timmins-James Bay politicians for help.

"They really need to step up and do something about it," she said. "I mean, people need to realize how we're living up here."

She said she doesn't want to see her grandchildren spend a third winter in a tent frame.

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Chief Theresa Spence said about half of the houses need major renovations or are condemned. ((Allison Dempster/CBC))

About 1,800 people live in Attawapiskat. There are 303 houses on the reserve. That's roughly six people to a house.

Chief Theresa Spence said about half of the houses need major renovations or are condemned.

The problems include sewage leaks, leaky rooves, and mold.

But people still live in the houses — or next to them — in shacks.

Multi-million dollar proposition

"When you're living in a small room with kids, it [has a] social impact," she said.

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"You don't have your own kitchen, your own fridge, you have to share with everybody, you have to wait for your shower."

Spence figures the community needs 200 houses, which is a multi-million dollar proposition.

For now, she's asked the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs for $400,000 to renovate 15 houses.

There has been no word from the government on whether it will grant the funding.