Indigenous culture needs to be considered in work to end homelessness, report says

An Indigenous cultural lens should be applied to programs and policies that aim to help the homeless in Winnipeg, a new report says.

Homeless Winnipeggers struggle to fill basic needs such as getting sleep, report says

A member of the Salvation Army cold weather patrol talks to a homeless man staying warm in a bus shelter outside Winnipeg's city hall earlier this winter. (Tanner Grywinski/CBC)

An Indigenous cultural lens should be applied to programs and policies that aim to help the homeless in Winnipeg, a new report says.

More than 70 per cent of the homeless people who provided information for the Winnipeg Street Health Survey Report were Indigenous, and their "cultural lens" must be part of efforts to end the problem, the authors say.

The report is based on interviews with 406 homeless people in Winnipeg conducted from June to October 2018. It was released at a news conference hosted by End Homelessness Winnipeg at the Sinclair Park Community Centre on Wednesday morning.

The interviews were done in person at various service providers, such as the Aboriginal Health and Wellness medical clinic on Higgins Avenue, the Main Street Project and Resource Assistance for Youth.

The report says one person called a landlord about an apartment, but the landlord asked about income and whether the prospective renter was a visible minority. When the landlord heard the person was on income assistance and Indigenous, the landlord said, "Oh, I think the apartment is rented."

Another woman reported being asked to sleep with the landlord and being told to "get out of there" when she refused. 

Nearly half of the people surveyed had spent time in the care of Child and Family Services and nearly 65 per cent said they had a mental health diagnosis.

They also self-reported high rates of substance abuse and injuries as well as physical health diagnoses.

Lead author Corinne Isaak talked about how difficult it is for homeless people to be healthy as they struggle not only to find housing and access services, but to fill basic needs such as getting food and even sleep.

One woman Isaak interviewed told her she struggled with feeling safe while sleeping.

"She talked about how [she and] her roommate had a partner/buddy system — one would sleep and watch the other and vice-versa — and how, you know, they needed to make sure that they were safe but they also needed to sleep," Isaak said.

The authors of the report recommend enhanced measures to address the root causes of homelessness, more research to identify gaps in services, better integration of services to prevent homelessness and increasing services, including tailored supports to meet specific needs.

The last Winnipeg Street Health Survey was done in 2011. The new study builds on its findings and those of other studies, including the 2014 At Home/Chez Soi Winnipeg report and the 2015 and 2018 street censuses, a news release said.