TORONTO, May 19, 2005 - The condition of homelessness among the Aboriginal peoples of Sioux Lookout, Ontario is desperate and in need of cooperative efforts to facilitate change, according to a new report prepared by Debra Sider, Project Researcher of the Sioux Lookout Anti-racism Committee, and released jointly by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) and the Community Mobilization Program (CMP) at the Canadian Conference on Homelessness at York University. The report, A Sociological Analysis of Aboriginal Homelessness in Sioux Lookout, Ontario found that 99 percent of homeless individuals on the streets of the northwestern Ontario town are Aboriginal.
Ms Sider focused on 43 informants who are homeless and found that a significant segment, 47 percent, had a history of violence and abuse, compared to 39 percent of the homeless in other communities. Of the 43, 19 became key informants of which 58 percent had some form mental illness or in need of healing or counselling services. This condition Ms Sider attributes to the experiences of federal policies and residential schools.
The report builds on a preliminary study conducted by the Sioux Lookout Homelessness Committee led by project coordinator Laura Calm wind. The study found that Elders tied the sense of hopelessness and despair among the homeless who turn to alcohol "to numb pain" directly related to the impact of historical policies.
"This situation is compounded by a number of factors, including the serious shortage of housing on and off reserve and the fact that 63 percent of the homeless received no income," Sider notes. "The worst part is that the First Nations' traditional way of life was replaced by a radically different lifestyle which was designed to assimilate, which has now been abandoned, but which leaves the current generations in a confused state without adequate support."
The report outlines a number of solutions, one of which is currently underway, to remedy the situation. The Sioux Lookout Homelessness Committee, now known as Wii-Chii-Way Gamik Committee, has implemented a Transitional Support Program to assist the homeless to locate services. Other demands include: a land-based healing program, detox and treatment services and affordable, supportive and transitional housing. It also calls on the municipality of Sioux Lookout to work with the different levels of government and the First Nations to address the problem.
"This is a very serious problem for any community, and therefore has a considerable impact on one the size of Sioux Lookout," notes Dr. Karen Mock, Executive Director of the CRRF. "As the report shows, one of the causes of the homelessness is directly attributable to the legacy of residential schools - a fundamentally racist system. We, at the Foundation, are prepared to work with the Aboriginal community of Sioux Lookout and other communities to push for these much-needed changes."