When we posted our Infographic Wednesday blog post on Urban Aboriginal Homelessness on Facebook we received this comment from a user: "Tell us why, what are the causes, and tell us how we can help our brothers and sisters." A good question to address in today's Ask the Hub.

On Valentine’s Day I took part in one of several events across Canada honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women. Hundreds of Aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada; over 600 in the last 30 years according to the Native Women Association of Canada’s research through the Sisters in Spirit program. This morning I awoke to learn of another instance of an Inuit woman –Loretta Saunders – who has gone missing in Halifax. (Update: On February 26th police found Loretta Saunders's body by Route 2, in New Brunswick).

Feather and a shell

It was made even more poignant by the work we’ve been doing at the Homeless Hub on this issue. We were very pleased yesterday to share a new Aboriginal Homelessness Literature Review written by York University grad student Caryl Patrick. Aboriginal homelessness is an important issue for us; we recently took steps towards the formation of an Aboriginal Homelessness Research Network and research on Aboriginal homelessness is a key part of our work plan for the next several years. Caryl’s literature review answers the question we received on Facebook very well.

We view Aboriginal homelessness as something that needs to be both embedded in most, if not all, of the work that we do on homelessness in Canada and as a separate issue unto its own self. We feel that it’s important that we examine the issues of Aboriginal homelessness as a distinct from homelessness generally in order to explore:

  • What are the unique causes or contributing factors connected to colonialism, racism, loss of land etc.?
  • What role does intergenerational trauma play?
  • How have residential schools, the '60s Scoop or the reservation system affected Aboriginal homelessness?
  • Are there unique culturally-based solutions that should be implemented to solve this crisis?

But we also know that we have to integrate the issue into all work we do because of the disproportionate representation of Aboriginals in the urban homeless population. Urban homelessness is almost always an Aboriginal issue, although Aboriginal homelessness isn’t always an urban issue.

A great practical example of this integration is found in the Homeward Trust case study in our Housing First book. Every Housing First team must have a 40% minimum Aboriginal caseload and there is also an Aboriginal Housing First team - Nikihk.

Our blog post on Wednesday based on research by Yale Belanger and his colleagues showed that 1 in 15 Aboriginal people in urban centres experience homelessness compared to 1 in 128 in the general population. In other words, urban Aboriginal Peoples are 8 times more likely than non-Aboriginal people to experience homelessness. (The state of on-reserve housing across much of the country is a separate but linked issue; there are those who believe that the poor, inadequate housing should qualify people living in reserve housing as homeless as well).

Studying Aboriginal homelessness provides an opportunity for us to look at how racism and oppression – from colonization and the reserve system through residential schools and the 60s Sweep – have led not just to ongoing discrimination against a specific group, but to a crisis of systemic homelessness. We welcome Caryl’s contribution to these discussions and are pleased that we were able to publish a quality, peer-reviewed report on such an important issue.

This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at thehub@edu.yorku.ca and we will provide a research-based answer.