Thirty-seven per cent of Brantford’s homeless population are of Indigenous ancestry. That’s in a city where only 2.4 per cent of the population identifies as Indigenous.
Not only that, but the majority of homeless Indigenous people in Brantford are from Six Nations, who are leaving the community to find housing in the city, according to Brantford Native Housing.
Alma Arguello, BNH executive director, told Six Nations elected council last week that the most recent point-in-time (PIT) count in Brantford showed that of the 156 homeless people who were interviewed in the city, 58 self-identified as Indigenous.
The reason for the disproportionate representation, said Arguello, are systemic barriers stemming from the Indian Act.
And she said the PIT count, conducted in 2021 in conjunction with Statistics Canada, doesn’t even tell the whole story.
It doesn’t capture the whole homeless population because it fails to take into account what she said is the “hidden homeless” – people who couch surf or live in institutions or temporary shelters.
Arguello said hidden homelessness is on the increase in Brantford, as are waitlists for affordable housing.
Indigenous homelessness in Brantford will reach a boiling point on June 1 when Brantford Native Housing runs out of housing to support all the people on its waitlist, she said.
Women and children make up the majority of BNH clients.
“We have actually used all of our housing stock,” said Arguello.
Currently, 85 per cent of units run by BNH house children and 100 per cent of BNH clients who are women have faced gender based or sexual violence.
It is harder for women with children to leave a violent situation, said Arguello, and once a woman becomes homeless, her risk of becoming a victim of violence gets even higher.
Violence is a leading cause of women’s homelessness in Canada and Indigenous women are three times more likely to be victimized by violence than non-Indigenous women, according to statistics.
Precarious housing also increases a woman’s risk of being a victim of violence or human trafficking.
BNH is looking to develop a townhouse complex on Campbell Street that will have 12 transitional housing units for two spirited people.
Arguello sought a letter of support from elected council last week as she described the units they aim to build, with full support from the City of Brantford.
Elected Chief Mark Hill expressed frustration at the lack of funding for native housing in Brantford, despite the statistics found by point-in-time counts.
“It’s quite bothersome at times,” he said. “Our people drive the data,” he said, but then local agencies and organizations don’t get the funding or services needed.
“I cannot do this without your support,” Arguello told council. “I cannot address this issue without your support. Most of our urban indigenous community comes from Six Nations.”
Coun. Melba Thomas pointed out that Six Nations people move to Brantford because they can’t find housing on the reserve.
“They’re living in hotels in Brantford as a result of Six nations’ need for housing,” said Coun. Melba Thomas.
Meanwhile, Ganohkwasra Family Assault Support Services is also looking for funding to build more transitional housing units on Sunrise Court.
Elected Council agreed to provide a letter of support for Ganohkwasra’s $2.7 million ask to Indigenous Services Canada to add more units to its second-step housing complex which will include family units and single person units.
“I’m just hoping council will be supportive of this initiative,” said Ganohkwasra Executive Director Sandra Montour.
The transitional housing program helps clients escaping domestic violence gain life skills while providing them stable housing for up to two years.
“We’re very proud of our programming there,” said Montour. “We teach life skills. This is a program. It’s not just housing.”
The aim is to help clients break the cycle of poverty and not return to their abusers.