Manitoba

Aboriginal newcomers face 'hidden homelessness': study

Many aboriginal people who move to Prairie cities struggle to find affordable housing and often end up living in residential hotels, rooming houses or on the street, according to a new report.

Many aboriginal people who move to Prairie cities struggle to find affordable housing and often end up living in residential hotels, rooming houses or on the street, according to a new report.

The study on homelessness among aboriginal people in Prairie cities was released Tuesday by the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg.

The study, titled An Examination of Hidden Homelessness among Aboriginal Peoples in Prairie Cities, is based on interviews with 129 aboriginal people in Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg who lived in tenuous housing situations.

"What is available is the lowest end of the quality scale," Jino Distasio, one of the study's authors, told CBC News. "We had people moving three or four times in a short, few-month period."

More than 40 per cent of the people interviewed said they had lived in three or more different locations in the past six months. In the general population for those three cities, about 17 per cent of people had moved in the past 12 months, according to Statistics Canada.

Thirty per cent said they had used an emergency shelter in the past year, and the same number said they were currently living in single-room accommodation, such as a rooming house or hotel.

Researchers blamed poverty and a lack of services for the level of homelessness, noting that 75 per cent of the respondents said they earned less than $10,000 per year and more than two-thirds were unemployed.

Familiar story in Winnipeg

The study's findings are no surprise to Derek Helgason, who moved to Winnipeg six years ago from Norway House on northern end of Lake Winnipeg.

The 26-year-old says he has never had a permanent home in the city. He currently splits his time in two homeless shelters, and when those are full, he sleeps in back alleys.

"This is very difficult for me. It's sad," he said. "I didn't think I'd be like this, staying on the streets."

Helgason's story is a familiar one to John Mohan, executive director of the Siloam Mission in Winnipeg. More than 80 per cent of the people who use the mission's services – meals, clothing and support services – are aboriginal.

Mohan says since the mission moved to a larger facility last November, staff has seen a dramatic increase in the number of clients.

"Each floor was about four times as large as our older building, and we thought it would take us literally years to be full," he said. "Within a month, we were full to capacity."

Mohan says the mission has served as many as 1,000 meals in a single evening. The organization is considering expanding its hours to seven days a week to better serve its clients.

Distasio says while his findings may not come as news to many, they are an indication that housing for aboriginal people is an issue that demands major attention in urban centres.

He hopes more attention will come to the issue this week, as Winnipeg begins a summit to discuss issues to improve urban life.

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