By Jen Mt. Pleasant
Four weeks ago, I was hired by Brantford Native Housing as the Aboriginal Engagement Co-ordinator. Essentially, I was hired to help with a Point-in-Time (PiT) Count for Brant County and the City of Brantford. 2016 was the first ever Canada wide PiT Count on homelessness as part of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. Point-in-Time means that at a given time of the year, communities across Canada participate in a survey on homelessness. These surveys were conducted in 30 communities across Canada between January 2016 and April 2016.
The last study that Brantford did on their homelessness was in 2011. They found that 26 per cent of those suffering from homelessness in the city identify as Native. Since Brantford sits next to the largest reserve in Canada by population, many of the city’s Native homeless are from this territory. Similarly, of the overall Native homeless population in Canada, 29 per cent overall are Indigenous. Indigenous people in Canada make up roughly four per cent of the overall population. Given that, then these numbers of Native homelessness are epidemic.
Why are Indigenous people overrepresented in every marginalized segment of society: homelessness, incarceration, missing and murdered? It doesn’t take long to find the answer — 500 years of aggressive government policies out-right attempting to do away with the Indian problem.
“To take the Indian out of the child”, as summed up by then Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Duncan Campbell Scott. Even though we are a resilient people, we still suffered tremendously as a result of this attack on our identity as Indigenous people; which was also an attack on our very existence.
As a result, we suffer from many traumas today including: loss of identity; confusion as to what it even means to be Ogwehoweh today; ongoing physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse; depression; addictions; and high rates of suicide. Many of our people can no longer function as ‘normal’ people, they cannot take care of themselves as they normally would had they not suffered this intergenerational trauma. Many of our people are living on the streets in Brantford. Literally. They sleep under bridges, in parks, in abandoned buildings and in cars.
Every day, they wake up. They go out in search of one of our basic needs for survival — food. For those who have never experienced homelessness, everything you have in front of you is a luxury. Your computer, cell phone, car, bed, warm blankets, fridge, stove, hot shower, and running water, those are all luxuries. Every day people living on the streets have to worry about when their next meal will be. Every day, they experience marginalization. That look of a passerby on the street as they ask for change or a cigarette. That look of, “You got yourself into your own mess.” If they even get acknowledged at all. Yet, everyday people who experience homelessness persevere. They go back to their makeshift sleeping quarters on the streets at night and wake up the next day. These people are true survivors.
Our people shouldn’t be living on the streets, wondering when and where their next meal will be. It is the responsibility of each of one of us as Ogwehoweh people to look after each other and show compassion towards one another. To never judge another until you have walked a mile in their moccasins. Many of our people have had rough childhoods, some were never taught healthy coping skills, never taught how to heal from that trauma that has been passed down through the generations. Many of our ancestors were ripped apart at residential schools. That abuse and trauma is still being passed down to the next generations.
No one chooses to be homeless. Many fall through the cracks due to no support systems, no family ties, unresolved grief, and untreated or undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Our people have been dragged through the ringer for too long. They have and continue to suffer tremendously. What we need now is healing and helping one another.
“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” John A. Holmes.