I’m writing an open access textbook on homelessness and have just released Chapter 6, which focuses on homelessness experienced by Indigenous peoples—especially in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The PDF version of the full chapter is available here.

Here are 10 things to know:

  1. The impact of colonization has been far-reaching. Since European contact, Indigenous peoples in Australia, Canada and New Zealand have experienced; colonization; the dispossession of land, water and other natural resources; forced relocation; and the loss of family connections and culture. Enduring trauma is one such impact.
  2. One legacy of colonialism has been increased rates of homelessness. Put differently, when one: reflects on some of the major causes of homelessness discussed in Chapter 1 of this textbook; marries that with what has happened to Indigenous peoples—typically at the hands of European settlers over several centuries; and then considers present-day systemic racism, it is no mystery as to why Indigenous peoples often experience homelessness at much higher rates than non-Indigenous people.
  3. In the face of adversity, Indigenous communities have demonstrated remarkable resilience and cultural strength. That resilience points us to promising practices, all of which must both Indigenous-led and supported by considerable funding injections (including for a broad array of social services).
  4. On-site cultural programming is key. Whether we’re referring to an emergency shelter, a daytime drop-in service or housing, it can be beneficial to offer onsite culturally relevant services. Such programming can include music, arts and crafts, language support, and food-related support that might be relevant to local Indigenous populations.
  5. Organizations in the homeless-serving sector should consider hiring the services of Elders. This may involve using a rotation of Elders, keeping in mind the diversity of Indigenous peoples in any given community. Different Elders specialize in different teachings, have different skill sets and demonstrate different understandings of various issues. These may also involve Elders being ‘on call’ to residents who want to seek guidance outside of organized events. It is extremely important to provide appropriate compensation to Elders.
  6. Staff training on Indigenous awareness is essential. Such training should be led by Indigenous peoples, ideally from the local community. It can sometimes come in the form of all-day trainings for all staff, and should occur at least once per year. Staff should also be encouraged to seek Indigenous cultural awareness training outside of such trainings—e.g., at local universities and colleges.
  7. Guest presentations can have a positive impact. While full-day trainings can be very meaningful, guest presentations on Indigenous matters may be shorter and more frequent. They can be made by Elders, knowledge keepers, Indigenous-focused service providers and university-based researchers. Presentations can be for staff, board members or program participants (i.e., clients). One possibility is to have lunch-time presentations for staff in 9-5 work settings; another is to have an evening speaker series at an emergency facility or apartment building. Presenters should be offered an honorarium and have their expenses covered.
  8. Indigenous staffing is very important. Organizations in the homelessness sector should strive to have staffing numbers comparable to those of the population served—i.e., if 25% of clients are Indigenous, an organization might strive to have 25% of their staff also be Indigenous. This may require recruiting Indigenous personnel from outside the homeless-serving sector and then providing training related to homelessness. Similarly, homeless-serving organizations should strive to have Indigenous representation on their boards of directors and staff leadership (i.e., management) teams.
  9. Partnerships are vital. Many non-profit organizations may have few if any Indigenous staff; yet, they may wish to still offer culturally appropriate services to Indigenous peoples. One way to circle this square, so to speak, is to reach out to local organizations that do have such institutional capacity. For example, an organization (let’s call it Agency A) might reach out to an organization with strong capacity for Indigenous-specific support (Agency B). Agency A might pay Agency B to offer Indigenous-focused services at Agency A. Alternatively, Agency A might also hire services from private consultants specializing in culturally appropriate services for Indigenous peoples.
  10. Ongoing evaluation and oversight can make a big difference. Accountability mechanisms may include an evaluation framework with Indigenous-specific inputs, outputs and outcomes. An annual survey specifically for Indigenous clients may also be useful. Evaluation practices should incorporate oral traditions. Indigenous peoples should be involved in the development of any evaluation framework.

In sum. This is a summary of Chapter 6 of a sole-authored, open access interdisciplinary textbook intended to provide an introduction to homelessness for students, service providers, researchers, policy-makers and advocates. All material for this book is available free of charge here. Newly-completed chapters will be uploaded throughout the year.

I wish to thank Sylvia Regnier and Annick Torfs for assistance with this blog post.