By Jasmine Salazar
(ANNews) – In Edmonton, 5% of the total population identify as Indigenous, according to a Stats Canada 2016 Edmonton Census. However despite making up only 5% of the population, Indigenous people make up 60% of Edmonton’s homeless population – as of June 8, 2020.
Over 370 of the people experiencing homelessness that identify as Indigenous are under the age of 24.
That is why Homeward Trust, a social services organization that works to prevent and end homelessness, has announced two new Indigenous Youth Housing Teams.
Native Counselling Services of Alberta (NCSA) and Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society are two agencies that have been running programs for adults experiencing homelessness through an Indigenous perspective, and they are now expanding to the youth as well, with the two teams designed to support Indigenous youth between the ages of 16 and 24 whom are at risk of experiencing homelessness.
“We’re asked to shelter-in-place [during COVID-19], but our youth can’t do that if they don’t have a home,” says Melissa Meneen, Youth Housing First Manager at NCSA. “Our new program fills those gaps. It’s an opportunity to create some good movement for our Indigenous youth to interrupt that cycle of intergenerational trauma and help them see a different perspective with regards to a life beyond what they knew before.”
The Youth Housing First program is focusing on early intervention and prevention. The teams are able to connect with the youth before they become chronically homeless and provide support to youth experiencing housing instability. However the teams are not limited to these conditions as they will support youth who are experiencing homelessness as well.
“When you work with Indigenous adults and youth – and being Indigenous myself – and you move to an urban setting, you often can feel disconnected from community and that community is a reflection of the culture,” explains Lovette Ferguson, Senior Manager at Bent Arrow. “Being able to connect youth at an earlier age to their culture and heritage is especially important. Being able to connect to your roots makes you feel like you know who you are as a person and that you fit somewhere.”
Meneen adds, “It’s not a straight line, because every person that we are working with has a uniqueness to them. We need to see that uniqueness and support them on whatever journey they want to go on.”
Ferguson continued, “We’ve had people come our way who have tried the mainstream services in battling their addictions and it didn’t work for them. But they went down the spiritual journey of addressing their addictions and that’s what worked.”
Homeward Trust went on to explain that “These supports have been identified as critical components in healing, and in turn, help Indigenous youth maintain their housing… It was recognized by communities that change must be rooted within an Indigenous set of values, understandings, and subsequent actions when it comes to addressing Indigenous experiences of homelessness, especially for youth.”
This article was reprinted from a Homeward Trust Newsletter.