Raye St. Denys, executive director of the Shining Mountain Living Community Services addresses a gathering at the Red Deer Public Library on Friday. (Photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)

Aboriginal house gaps studied in Red Deer

Consultant suggests programs don’t always mesh with native needs

Racism is one of the biggest barriers preventing native people from finding appropriate housing, a consultant found.

“If you remove racism you decrease fear, and people will rent houses to aboriginal people,” said Linda Many Guns, a native American studies professor at the University of Lethbridge, who was hired to suggest housing supports for indigenous people in Red Deer.

Local groups Shining Mountains Living Community Services, the Red Deer Native Friendship Society and Métis Urban Housing group partnered to form the Aboriginal Voices on Housing Network. They commissioned a $28,000 survey, funded by the city, to examine how to prevent indigenous homelessness.

Many Guns told housing advocates Friday at the Snell Auditorium, that she collected information over three months through questionnaires and taped interviews with native people.

Racism was put on her ‘short-term solutions’ list, since Many Guns believes provincial, municipal and community leaders can immediately move to attack it by changing some policies and eliminating stereotyping by re-framing indigenous people as positive, productive members of society.

As a group, they are now more educated, engaged and culturally aware, she said. “We’ve been here forever and we’re not going away.”

Many Guns noting most indigenous people are born in cities. But she said their needs — the native population is younger, more interconnected, has more health and transportation issues than the majority culture — don’t always mesh with existing services. For instance, she said many affordable housing complexes stipulate ‘no smoking’ in suites, and consider smudging ceremonies to be ‘smoking.’

More aboriginal home ownership programs, elderly housing initiatives, programs where native volunteers can earn “points” towards house repairs, and the establishment of a “rent bank” that allows borrowers to meet their rents in cases of job loss, among her recommendations.

Even simple changes, like helping more people get identity papers would help, since it’s more trouble getting an official status card than a passport, she added.

Raye St. Denys, executive-director of Shining Mountains, said aboriginal agencies plan to absorb all the information and discuss where to go from here, gradually including more members of their own communities and the wider community in strategy meetings.

Métis leader and Alberta’s Housing Minister Cecil Bellrose said, “Hopefully… we’re going to get something done.” He noted Red Deer has 10 housing units for Métis people, and 45 people on the waiting list.

lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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