Indigenous agencies to get 'transformative' amount of cash to help homeless

Canada's minister overseeing a new national housing strategy says Indigenous agencies will finally get their fair share when it comes to federal homelessness funding.

Indigenous people make up disproportionate percentage of homeless population

Reaching Home will require communities to produce annual public reports on how they're spending the money, says Jean-Yves Duclos. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Canada's minister overseeing a new national housing strategy says Indigenous agencies will get a "transformative" amount of federal homelessness money.

Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said it's "well understood" that Indigenous agencies haven't got their fair share in the past. The federal government's $40-billion housing strategy will "correct that."

Duclos was speaking in Hamilton Monday at the national Conference on Ending Homelessness.

Indigenous people make up a disproportionate percentage of the homeless population, but advocates say the agencies serving them are historically underfunded.

"As you'll see very soon, the investment we're going to make to fight Indigenous homelessness will be very significant," the minister said.

"It's going to be transformative for our relationship with Indigenous people on homelessness."

Indigenous homelessness includes a disconnect from land and culture, says Yvonne Maracle, who contributed Indigenous support at the conference. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Steve Teekens hopes so. He's executive director at Na-Me-Res (Native Men's Residence) in Toronto.

He was heartened by last year's announcement of a national housing strategy, he said.

"I've been patiently waiting for the Indigenous piece to be announced. They just talked about how $40 billion is going toward a national housing strategy. Great. So much is carved out for the Indigenous piece? When can we expect some sort of announcement, or what are the timelines for that? I haven't heard."

Duclos's stop unveiled the latest details of a strategy called Reaching Home, aimed at reducing the number of chronically homeless. The strategy, worth $2.1 billion over the next decade, will go to local experiments and initiatives.

Currently, 61 communities are eligible for money, Duclos said. But the government will add another four soon.

Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos gives details on the Reaching Home national housing strategy. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The three-day conference has an Indigenous focus this year. A 2017 report from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness shows Indigenous people account for .05 per cent of Toronto's population, but 15 per cent of its homeless population.

In Hamilton, a 2017 point-in-time survey of the homeless population found 22 per cent had Indigenous ancestry, while only 3.3 per cent of Hamilton is Indigenous.

Of Hamilton's Indigenous respondents, 42 per cent had been in foster care or a group home and 87 per cent were on social assistance.

Yvonne Maracle, who provided cultural support at the conference, told the audience any solution to homelessness has to include Indigenous communities.

'Over-represented for so long'

"We know how to fix problems," she said, "but we have to be at those tables."

Randy Pitt is a programs manager at the Aboriginal Labour Force Development Circle on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont.

"We've been over-represented for so long, and the money's not there," he said. "And the money has to be with organizations that serve our people."

The conference at the Hamilton Convention Centre has drawn about 1,300 people who work in the field of homelessness. Session topics include preventing youth homelessness, housing in the Canadian North and how European communities are handling homelessness.

Hamilton's point-in-time survey showed that from 2015 to 2018, the number of homeless people in the city dropped 25 per cent. 


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca