Interview with Arlene Hache

Arlene Hache has 25 years experience providing front-line advocacy support to Aboriginal and Inuit women and their families living in northern, remote communities.

Arlene has been Executive Director of the Centre for Northern Families in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories Canada for more than 20 years.  The Centre offers a broad range of services that support multi-stressed and marginalized families.  She is well known across the North as an advocate for social change and is a founding partner in the development of therapeutic programs and in-home family support services designed to support families recovering from trauma related to colonization and ongoing violence.  Arlene was awarded the Order of Canada for her work in the North in 2009.

Q: Where are you from and where did you study?

A: I am from a farming community just outside of Ottawa. I completed high school then went to nursing school which I did not complete.

What area of homelessness research are you involved in?

I find all aspects of research very interesting because it takes on such a personal perspective because I was once homeless as a young person and later I created a homeless service with my peers. Research is never research to me. Research to me is documenting experiences and stories, and documenting what works well and what doesn’t work. I view [research] as a very natural process and I’m particularly interested in women’s homelessness and aboriginal/Inuit women and how they experience homelessness. I am very interested in mental health and the impact of colonization and trauma, youth homelessness and the contributors to that, the gap around the 16 to 19 year olds where resources are not given to youth and the door that that opens for predators to take advantage of youth. I am also interested in rural and remote issues. That is just to name a few that are particularly interesting to me.

What in your opinion makes this research area important in addressing homelessness?

I think it’s important to look at northern issues relating to homelessness because the north is generally left out of the national landscape when talking about homelessness.The other thing that happens in the north is that there are no universities and they are really removed from researchers or the ability to have research done. Making sure research on the north is done is really important because they have a very different environment, politically and socially, and even environmentally they have a really different challenge to face. It is important because, contrary to popular belief, one size does not fit all. Contributors to homelessness are very individual things from my perspective, so finding out what those contributors are and therefore finding how to address them directly is not all that easy. I think proper research, done with the engagement of the community, will eventually reveal what those solutions are.

Based on your research and/or practice (i.e., work with people who are homeless), what in your opinion is (are) the key issue(s) that need(s) to be addressed?

A couple of the key issues that I think are important are cultural relevancy or cultural specificity as it relates to delivering programs and services. I think it’s really important that populations, particularly aboriginal and Inuit populations, control their own resources and not have to have a service delivered to them by a settler group, meaning a mainstream group.I think the final thing that is important to me is the tipping point where you’re in a collaborative or forced to work in a partnership when that becomes being co-opted. How can you tell you are in a collaboration and how can you tell when you’re being co-opted? At the end of the day, you know to desert the people that you are intending to serve.

What are the policy implications of this/these issue(s)? What do you see as the key policy priority in effectively addressing the problem of homelessness in Canada?

I think the development of policy is a really complex thing in some ways and not easy to answer in quick way. A lot of problems occur when you change one policy without thinking of [the consequences to] all the other policies.I don’t know all the policy implications that my concerns raise up but some of them would be to make sure that policies would be around ensuring that aboriginal/Inuit groups are properly funded to develop their own housing stock as well as to make sure they have their own shelters that they can run. And to sort of give that population the resources that they need to properly and effectively meet the need of their population.They don’t need third party people administering their funds at all. That would be one example of where there is something important for me: to have Inuit and Aboriginal organizations run their own programs. So the policy implication would be to deal with the fact that it is largely done by non-aboriginal groups right now.

Who needs to be involved in implementing your suggested policy/practice changes?

From my perspective it would be aboriginal/Inuit people who are homeless and their leadership, although not solely their leadership, because I think quite often leadership is removed from the reality of what communities have to live with.The federal government, Indian & Northern affairs, different departments in the federal government would have to be involved. I think there is a strong role for human rights organizations to monitor that and report back to international bodies for the Canadian government’s failure to properly resource aboriginal/Inuit communities. It’s a small team, it’s not that difficult to pull that team together, but quite often the political will is not there for that.

What is next in terms of your homelessness research?

Right now we’re looking at culturally specific programs that meet the needs of aboriginal/Inuit women who are traumatized as the result of colonization and long-standing violence. We’re focused on mental health issues and different therapeutic models to meet the needs of aboriginal/Inuit population.

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