It's been over three weeks since the community of Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency because of a severe housing crisis. That crisis is still ongoing, and while the government has not responded yet, the story is picking up more media attention. NDP MP Charlie Angus, who has been working to bring attention to the situation, published an article today titled 'What if They Declared an Emergency and No One Came?'
With many in the community living in sheds and tents with no running water or electricity, disease running rampant, and temperatures expected to drop by 20 or 25 degrees in the coming weeks, urgent action is needed. Yet as Mr. Angus points out, "not a single federal or provincial official has even bothered to visit the community".
So far, the federal government has only committed $500,000 as an emergency measure. According to Angus, that amount is "little more than a Band-Aid" given the scope of the problem. On the other hand, many Canadians have come forward to offer help. But Angus believes that "nothing will really change until there is action from the officials" who are in charge of the region.
National Housing Day: Is Homelessness Still a Disaster? - November 21, 2011
Tomorrow is National Housing Day, a commemoration of the date in 1998 when the mayors of Canada's biggest cities endorsed a Toronto-led campaign to declare homelessness a national disaster.
Attention seems to have waned since that high-profile moment: While there are a number of events planned across the country tomorrow, none have thus far announced the participation of any of Canada's big-city mayors. (In fact, many of tomorrow's gatherings will occur against the backdrop of eviction notices mayors have served those living in tents and temporary shelters as part of the Occupy protests.)
While housing is usually considered an urban issue, it poses a challenge in remote communities, too: Attawapiskat First Nation, near James Bay in northern Ontario, recently declared a state of emergency due to the rapidly deteriorating living conditions for its 2,000 residents, many of whom are facing a winter without adequate shelter. With many families living in tents and makeshift shacks without heat, plumbing or electricity, Chief Theresa Spence took the unprecedented step of asking provincial authorities to evacuate her community from their homes.
So far, there has been little reaction from either the provincial or federal governments. NDP MP Charlie Angus has recently started a campaign to attract attention to Attawapiskat, posting a video on You Tube and circulating an op-ed on the subject, and holding a news conference with Spence and Ontario MPP Gilles Bisson in Toronto last week. There is also an online petition seeking signatures for a statement requesting immediate action from John Duncan, the Minister of Indian Affairs.