Understanding Homelessness for Urban Indigenous Families

How Can We Envision Gendered and Culturally Safe Responses

Family homelessness is a complex and pervasive issue in Canada. Particularly troubling is the overrepresentation of Indigenous families in Canada’s emergency shelters and in unsafe/ unstable housing. Indigenous families headed by women are at high risk for racist and violent practices and particular attention needs to be paid to their gendered and cultural experiences. Western definitions articulate that homelessness occurs when an individual or family is without safe, permanent, and/or appropriate housing and are without prospects for achieving such housing.  Understanding homelessness for Indigenous Peoples means regarding homelessness as a lack of housing, but also as the isolation or separation of Indigenous Peoples from their connections to land, place, water, family, each other, animals, languages, cultures, and identities (Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness, 2012; Thistle, 2017). Understanding homelessness for Indigenous Peoples means examining the legacy impacts of assimilation policies of colonialism and acknowledging that current polices and practices are grounded in historical and structural racism against Indigenous peoples. This study was led by non-Indigenous researchers in partnership with Elders and knowledge keepers. The Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness acted as an advisory committee. Guidance and advice was sought from study inception and design through data collection and analysis. We identified five distinct themes affecting Indigenous women in the context of family homelessness: jurisdictional separation between sectors; racism; lack of safety; the need for family and limited opportunities to heal from trauma. We argue that structural violence is present in systems and policies that impede women’s opportunities to exit homelessness and heal from trauma. 

Publication Date: 
Canadian Observatory on Homelessness