New data may help Blood Reserve homelessness

By Lethbridge Herald on October 11, 2018.

Tim Kalinowski,

The Blood Tribe hopes by taking part in the Alberta Rural Development Network’s Rural Homelessness Estimation Count it will be able to get hard data on the level of homelessness on the reserve to provide a baseline for future funding applications, says Blood Tribe Family Community Support Services director Bruce Iron Shirt.

Currently due to jurisdictional issues between the province and the federal government, says Iron Shirt, and the lack of an established baseline, there is no real core funding for homeless initiatives on reserve, or even to fund the band’s Moses Lake Shelter year-round. This Band-Aid approach to funding, mainly provided through the band’s own limited support funds, leads to gaps in services, says Iron Shirt.

“Our lack of resources does lead to those gaps, and we are trying to find any source of funding that is outside of the boundaries and jurisdictional issues we deal with,” he says. “We need more core funding. We don’t really have any core funding, and outside of the reserve the province does provide some core funding to shelters.”

Lack of baselines data is a common problem in many rural communities, confirms ARDN executive director Dee Ann Benard, not just on the Blood reserve.

“Rural homelessness is a hidden problem,” says Benard. “So about a year or so ago the ARDN created the first ever guide on how to do rural homelessness estimation, but we needed to test it. We were able to get some funding to do that and get a whole bunch of communities involved. The Blood Tribe is one of the few Indigenous communities that we are doing one in.”

Altogether 21 communities will be surveyed for Rural Homelessness Estimation Count by the end of October. Benard is hopeful these surveys will shine a light on the problem of rural homelessness, and the unique problems each community may face in that regard.

“It is really going to give us a great picture of homelessness throughout rural communities, and in particular the Blood Tribe group, to see how bad it is on their reserve,” says Benard. “We know it is an issue for them, but we just don’t know how bad it is. So we’ll have some hard data after this, and we are pretty excited about that.”

The Calgary Homeless Foundation provided the means for the Blood Tribe to access the necessary funding to undertake the Estimation Count through its Innovation, Capacity building, & Enhancement (ICE) grant, says Victoria Ballance, vice-president of Stakeholder Engagement with the CHI, because it will help her organization understand how the population drift between reserve and city works, and will help to measure that drift’s potential impact on urban homelessness.

“Our data certainly shows a disproportionate amount of Indigenous peoples among shelter users and rough sleepers,” she says. “Anecdotally we have known there is likely a migration from surrounding First Nations communities in and out of Calgary, and we really wanted to get better data to start understanding that picture a little more.”

The problem, Iron Shirt says, isn’t so much as having a place the tribe’s homeless to go, but rather helping them transition to that next step of finding a stable living situation and dealing with the underlying problems that led them into homelessness in the first place. He is hoping the Rural Homelessness Estimation Count will be the means to open new doorways to be able to deal with these underlying problems.

“We realize there is true homelessness,” says Iron Shirt, “and then there is some that have issues with things such as addictions, or they fall through cracks in other socio-economic ways. There is also the bigger issue of lack of housing on the reserve.”