While many Canadians believe that racism and discrimination are relics of the past, the fact that Aboriginal communities remain socio-economically depressed and continue to experience all manner of discrimination at personal and institutional levels, is evidence of the pervasiveness of racism. Certainly, while many Canadians believe that the majority of Aboriginal people live on reserves, the reality is that more than half of Aboriginal people in Canada live in Urban centres and Rural areas to access education, employment, health services, and the amenities that Urban centres offer. Cut off from the culture and traditions that strengthened them, many Aboriginal people feel isolated and powerless against discrimination. They often face grinding poverty and live in sub standard housing or become part of the burgeoning population of the homeless.
The Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC) has identified and recognized the crucial need for a coordinated and thoughtful response to the Aboriginal housing and homeless crisis in the Greater Victoria area. Indeed, Aboriginal people are significantly overrepresented in the homeless population (25%) although only 2.8% of the population of the Capital Regional District (CRD) is Aboriginal. Even at this high percentage, Aboriginal service providers in the community believe that Aboriginal homeless were undercounted, particularly youth. The need for an Aboriginal Housing strategy is urgent, as the Aboriginal population continues to grow at a more rapid rate than any other group in Canada. Between 1996 and 2006, the Aboriginal population increased 45%, nearly six times faster than the 8% rate of growth for the non-Aboriginal population over the same period. Approximately seven out of ten Aboriginal people live off a reserve, according to the 2001 census, with almost a third of those living in large cities. Many Aboriginal families are already placed in motels in the Burnside Gorge area as temporary shelter, but must leave when the summer tourist season begins. The families then proceed to disperse wherever they can couch surf, overcrowding units in social housing occupied by friends or family, or the parents live on the streets and the children are either apprehended or are placed with relatives. Through this cycle of homelessness, Aboriginal reserves take the brunt of the summer exodus, and the often inadequate on reserve housing situation becomes stressed even further.
Remembering the past and the legacy of colonization and mistrust is important. However, so is moving on. The first step towards self sufficiency is to ensure that individuals attain housing stability. The Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC) is working hard to eliminate Homelessness. In partnership with the City of Victoria, the VNFC will be leasing/owning, renovating and operating the former Travellers Inn at 120 Gorge Rd. The project will provide 39 units of safe and affordable housing for Aboriginal youth leaving Foster Care, young families, single parents and grandparents raising grandchildren who are, or are at risk of becoming homeless, and will benefit from living in a supportive environment where they can learn parenting skills and other life skills necessary for self sufficiency. The primary purpose of the project is thus to create a safe, affordable, supported and holistic “Urban Village” where life long skills and a healthy life style will be modeled and the necessary resources provided to encourage healthy choices. Creating 39 units of housing for urban Aboriginal people will assist the CRD in achieving its goal of eliminating homelessness in the region. By positively influencing the next generation and providing housing, support, and a sense of community and identity to Aboriginal young adults, children and grandparents, Siem Lelum House will further help prevent the cycle of child apprehension. Renewing traditional community based practices also helps build community wellness and sustainability. Empowering Aboriginal people on the traditional lands of the Coast Salish People, and helping them to regain health and pride in belonging will go a long way towards bridging the gap that exists between Aboriginal community and non-Aboriginal community.
Linda E. Ross Property Management Inc.is the Property Manager for the Victoria Native Friendship Centre and will be undertaking the building upgrade on behalf of the VNFC.