Cross Country Checkup

Indigenous youth, elders to live together in new Kamloops, B.C., housing project

A new project in Kamloops, B.C. will see Indigenous youth who have aged out of foster care living with elders together in a 31-unit condo building. Kamloops saw its homelessness rate nearly double between 2016 and 2018.

Kikékyelc: A Place of Belonging will be a 31-unit culturally-sensitve condo building

An illustration of the housing development Kikékyelc: A Place of Belonging planned for Kamloops, B.C. The innovative project will see Indigenous elders and youth aging out of foster care living together. (Richard Hunter Architect Inc.)

​Nakol Qelhmin hasn't lived in the same home for longer than a year since she turned 19 and aged out of foster care in Kamloops, B.C. two years ago.

Since leaving care, Qelhmin has been homeless several times. Her most recent experience was the hardest because she found herself walking along a sidewalk carrying her belongings in two bags, not knowing where she would go.

"It was heart-wrenching and I just, I felt hopeless," Qelhmin told Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue Sunday. 

Nakol Qelhmin was homeless several times after aging out of foster care two years ago in Kamloops, B.C. (Provided by Seanna Proulx )

Fortunately, she was able to move into the basement suite in the house of her first foster mother. 

"Being at this home has really, really been a blessing because that home has actually been the first home where I experienced, real, unconditional love," she said.

Qelhim, now 21, is lucky, but other youth in Kamloops are still facing homelessness or precarious living situations.

Last year, the city found that homelessness had almost doubled from 100 people in 2016 to at least 190 by the spring of 2018. Of those people who were homeless, 34 per cent were Indigenous and had aged out of care, just like Qelhim, who is Métis.

Innovative solution

There is hope on the horizon though, with a new project that will pair youth who have aged out of care with five Indigenous elders together in a 31-unit condo building.

The project is called Kikékyelc: A Place of Belonging, and is part of Lii Michif Otipemisiwak Family and Community Services, or LMO, a Métis-led organization in Kamloops.

Seanna Proulx, the youth services and housing manager with LMO, said there is already one elder present in the organization's office every day the office is open. She said having elders and youth living together is an extension of what the agency already does.

Seanna Proulx is the youth services and housing manager for the Lii Michif Otipemisiwak Family and Community Services in Kamloops, B.C. (Submitted by Seanna Proulx)

"They will play a mentorship role to the youth that live in the complex and this is an extension of the philosophy of our agency which is ensure that all of the people that come to LMO are dealt with in a in a culturally-safe, trauma-informed practice model," said Proulx. 

The ground-breaking for the project is slated for April and Proulx said LMO plans to open to the first residents in the fall of 2020.

Proulx said a project like this will help young people like Qelhim, who require a place to live when they age out of care.

Support from elders is 'sacred'

Qelhim said she loves the idea of elders and youth living together. "It sounds amazing to me and I believe that elder support is — that's sacred. It's something that, for First Nations people, has been a part of how we were for years and years and years. It's part of our culture," she said.

Qelhim said before she went into care, her favourite thing to do was to sit and listen to her grandmother talk of the past. "She'd tell me stories of what my name means and who our family was and what it meant to be a First Nations Métis woman," she said.

"I grew a lot from that and that kept me out of trouble and helped me more so understand who I was."

Proulx wants to build on that understanding, after seeing how well the groups responded to each other in LMO's office.

"To watch these relationships grow between the youth and our elders is amazing," she said.

With files from Sheyfali Saujani.