Thunder Bay

Video launch highlights campaign for youth transition home in Atikokan, Ont.

Leaders of an effort to build a transition home for young people aging out of care in northwestern Ontario, hope a newly produced video will add some momentum to the campaign.

Planned transition home and lodge would be a place for youth aging out of care

Autumn Windego (left) is one of several young people who share their stories in the recently released first episode of the Bring Our Children Home docuseries. (Bring Our Children Home)

A campaign to build a transition home for young people aging out of care in Atikokan, Ont., has seen its ups and downs over the past year, but organizers say progress is being made in the effort and they hope a new documentary video will put some more wind in its sails. 

Bring Our Children Home, is the first episode in a docuseries being produced by the Atikokan Native Friendship Centre, highlighting the need for safe, supportive housing for young people coming out of the child welfare system, said project lead John Whitesell.

"It's all geared to really the creation of Biskaabiiyang, which is what we are calling the youth transition home," said Whitesell, a consultant with expertise in housing and homelessness who's been working on the project with the Friendship Centre, a youth advisory council, and other partners. 

"Working with the youth we discovered firsthand what they felt was missing in their lives. And it all seemed to go back to having stable housing with a family unit that would be supportive regardless of what they were experiencing in life." 

The planned transition home and lodge would house 15 to 20 Indigenous youth between the ages of 15 and 29 years, Whitesell said. While living there, the young people would be able to take part in cultural activities, and access supports and programming, including a planned culinary program, to help them prepare for independent living. 

Autumn Windego is the Youth Advisory Council lead for the Bring Our Children Home project. (Bring Our Children Home)

It's a vision that Autumn Windego is eager to see become reality.

Windego, a former Crown ward herself, leads the project's youth advisory council. She's also one of the young people featured in the Bring Our Children Home video.

Youth share personal stories

When she aged out of care at the age of 18, Windego said some financial support was available, but other important social connections and supports were lacking. 

"And I really realized that when you age out of care you're kind of just thrown to the curb ... and I realized a lot of my friends who ... grew up in care, they were struggling with addiction, they were struggling with homelessness."

A focus on culture and tradition is one aspect Windego said she feels will make the planned transition home and lodge stand apart, and help young people to find their footing. 

Location still uncertain

Much work has gone into planning the programming for the transition home, Whitesell said, but a physical location is still required. 

The initial plan had been to repurpose the former Atikokan Hotel. However, Whitesell said that plan has likely fallen through, and the team is now considering the possibility of a new build, with the hope of having a completed building by 2023. 

In the meantime, they are also exploring options for interim housing for young people who need homes now, he said. 

Another next step is to "supercharge," their fundraising efforts. The project has a fundraising goal of approximately $3 million, Whitesell said, as they hope to raise enough to support the operation of the home for a minimum of three years.