The Ontario Aboriginal housing services spoke with SaultOnline to get more information on the $550,000 allocated to Sault Ste. Marie for affordable housing for Indigenous women and children.
The funds come from the province of Ontario through the social services relief funds through the COVID pandemic.
The Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services helps Indigenous communities all over Ontario with housing related needs, and they were allocated over $19 million for the entire province.
Almost 15% of the population of Sault Ste. Marie is Indigenous, First Nations, Metis or Inuit, making it one of the largest urban Indigenous groups in Ontario, with only a few cities coming close to that percentage.
According to Statistics Canada, the need for stable housing is 50% more in Urban Indigenous communities than it is for the mainstream population. In Ontario, 12.5% of the entire population is in need of housing services, whether that relates to affordability, overcrowding, or homes in a state of disrepair. For Urban Indigenous people, that figure is more than 18%.
“We’ve seen, unfortunately, an increase in domestic violence. From what we’re seeing on our waitlist, and from what we’ve heard directly from people as well as our service partners, is that with the tensions that the pandemic has caused, the downturn in economic activity, the isolation that the pandemic has caused, that has fostered an increase in rates of domestic violence,” Justin Marchand, the Executive Director of the Aboriginal Housing Services comments.
“In our board one of the priorities that we have, in fact, the top priority that we have with respect to our housing is to help end violence against all women, and certainly Indigenous women as our focus,” Marchand emphasizes.
Don McBain founded OAHS out of Sault Ste. Marie in 1992, starting with one employee as a grass-roots advocate for Indigenous, Metis, First Nations and Inuit housing. Don is Sarah McBain’s late father. Sarah carries on her father’s work as the communications specialist for the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services.
She comments about the funds received, “we’re always thrilled to have funding that we can allocate throughout the province, but it really feels special sometimes when it’s in our home turf, and helping our own community where we were founded. So it’s an extra special feeling.”
The $550,000 in funds will help create affordable housing for Indigenous women and children in Sault Ste. Marie. They are aimed at supporting women fleeing domestic violence, women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness during COVID.
“We wanted to help people today during the pandemic, but we also wanted to make sure that this, that how we use this, these funds would be to the community’s benefit over the long term and over many decades.” Marchand comments.