Homeless Indigenous people in Montreal lack 'sense of belonging,' study finds

A study looking into homelessness among Indigenous Montrealers has painted a stark picture of the situation, and it's recommending housing set aside specifically for Inuit, First Nations and other Indigenous peoples to help alleviate the problem.

Specific housing for Inuit, First Nations key to tackling Indigenous homelessness, say advocates

Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women's Shelter, said the findings in the study did not surprise her. (CBC)

A study looking into homelessness among Indigenous Montrealers has painted a stark picture of the situation, and it's recommending housing specifically for Inuit, First Nations and other Indigenous peoples to help alleviate the problem.

The Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network initiated the study, which surveyed 39 Inuit and 70 people from various First Nations living in Montreal.

It involved eight Montreal organizations that service Indigenous people.

The study found that while Indigenous people make up just 0.6 per cent of the city's population, they represent 10 per cent of the population of Montreal's homeless.

"What struck me is how long that people have been in those situations," said Adrienne Campbell, executive director of Projets Autochtones du Québec, a service which offers shelter and transitional housing in downtown Montreal.

Being homeless leaves many Indigenous people with no sense of connection to the city, said Campbell.

She said she was struck by "the amount of time that somebody can be in the city and not feel more a part of the city, and not feel a sense of community ... or a sense of belonging."

Adrienne Campbell is the executive director of Projets Autochtones du Québec, a service which offers shelter and transitional housing in downtown Montreal. (Elias Abboud/CBC )

Not in my backyard 

The recommendation to create Indigenous-specific affordable housing projects is aimed at creating that sense of community.

However, other efforts to achieve that goal haven't worked out.

A plan to open a temporary home in Montreal's Villeray district for Inuit from the northern Quebec region of Nunavik who come to Montreal to receive health care fell apart in 2010.

Somebody distributed leaflets in Villeray warning of drug addicts moving into the neighbourhood, bringing crime and affecting the neighbourhood's quality of life.

Then-borough mayor Anie Samson also voiced opposition.  

"When you take 125 people who are away from home, it's the novelty of it. It's the big city. Of course, things will happen," she told Radio-Canada.

Campbell says she, too, has faced opposition.

"We know there's a lot of discrimination when it comes to Indigenous housing," said Campbell.

"Our shelter had to move a few years ago, and we were fought at every turn in terms of where we could go."

Campbell says there's no reason why Aboriginal people should be excluded, citing culturally specific neighbourhoods such as Chinatown and Little Italy that already exist in the city.

"Healthy cultural communities have developed in specific areas in Montreal, and why is that not true for the Indigenous population? Where is our space here?"

Nakuset unsurprised by findings

Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women's Shelter, said the findings in the study did not surprise her.

She said she welcomes the recommendation for Indigenous-specific housing.

"So now we're just trying to safe, supportive housing units not on the streets so that [Indigenous people] are working on themselves, that they're going to find a job or go back to school or live a purposeful life," said Nakuset.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • More than two-thirds of respondents said they received less than $750 a month. Almost all said they received social assistance benefits, however only 52 per cent of homeless Inuit women surveyed reported receiving this type of assistance
     
  • Respondents who had stable housing at the time they were surveyed were hospitalized less frequently (14 per cent)  than those who were not (31 per cent).
     
  • 10 per cent of those in stable housing reported having been incarcerated for at least one night, compared to 34 per cent who do not have stable housing.
     
  • A majority of homeless Inuit and First Nations people did not express a desire to return to their home community, citing as reasons overcrowded housing, domestic violence, lack of work, and drug or alcohol abuse. However, 45 per cent of Inuit men responded they "would like" or "would very much like" to return to live in their home community.