Fort Albany man says Timmins hostel smacks of 'segregation', health officials say it's 'culturally sensitive'

Some people from the James Bay are not feeling so welcome at their home away from home in Timmins. They're raising concerns about the conditions at a hostel where far north patients stay when getting medical treatment.

16-bed hostel on Airport Road in Timmins opened in 1998

Photo by patient John-Paul Nakochee from December 2017 shows apparent septic tank problems at the Kapashewekamik Hostel in Timmins. (John-Paul Nakochee)

John-Paul Nakochee says he gets stressed out travelling to medical appointments in Timmins, but not because of a fear of doctors or flying.

"You're sitting on a plane thinking 'Am I going to stay at the hostel? I don't want to stay at the hostel,'" said the Fort Albany man.

The Kapashewekamik Hostel on Airport Road in Timmins is where people from the James Bay stay when in Timmins for a range of different medical appointments and treatments, including dental check-ups and eye exams.

The 16 bedroom hostel was opened in 1998 and is run in a partnership between the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority, the Mushkegowuk Tribal council and the Timmins Native Friendship Centre.

Nakochee says the hostel, which is a renovated three-bedroom home, is overcrowded and in disrepair, conditions similar to what Cree people face back at home.

"You know there's at least sometimes seven to 10 people in one house and that's the same thing we face when we go down to the hostel," he said. 

Nakochee says he also doesn't like the location of the hostel on the outskirts of Timmins and wonders if it was chosen to keep Cree people out of the downtown of a city recently criticized for "pervasive" racism. 

"For me, I call it segregation," he said, adding that most patients would rather stay in a hotel, which is what happens when the hostel is full. 

People from the James Bay Coast have to fly south for medical treatments, including everything from hospital procedures to dentist appointments. (Erik White/CBC )

Caroline Lidstone-Jones, the chief quality officer for the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority, says the rural setting of the hostel on 47 acres was chosen on purpose. 

"So we were looking to provide connection to the land, but also to provide some social and culturally sensitive services to patients, patients who come out and come to services and then get plunked into the middle of urban settings, it can be quite stressful too," she said. 

Lidstone-Jones says a building inspector recently found only minor problems with the hostel and prompted some upgrades to the home last month. 

"So nothing that was earth shattering, you know, that would put any safety in question," she said. 

Lidstone-Jones says a recent survey found that 70 per cent of clients are happy to stay at the hostel. 

"It is very difficult to make sure that everyone across the board is happy," she said.

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