Culturally supportive housing rooted in land-based harm reduction



​“We need an auntie."

That's what Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi said she heard again and again when speaking with Indigenous people living unhoused in Victoria in 2016. The Executive Director of the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness Society (ACEH) had been asked by the city to assist with a cultural approach to end homelessness in the downtown core. She shared that story with hundreds of attendees at the First Nations Health & Wellness Summit held in Vancouver May 7 – 9.

She told the crowd of First Nations communit​y and health leaders the story of 74 “priority people" who were identified by the city as being the most challenging to house, 20 of whom self-identified as Indigenous. Although Indigenous people represent just four per cent of the population in Victoria, they make up 31 per cent of chronic shelter users in the city.

The original cohort of 20 Indigenous people presented complex mental health and social challenges.

“They were banned from housing because the non-Indigenous housing providers in the city just couldn't handle them anymore," said Hunt-Jinnouchi. “You have to allow them time to adjust and to feel a sense of safety. Without that they don't move out of survival mode. When they're in survival mode, they cannot concentrate and be present with the culture or their own healing."

Hunt-Jinnouchi and her team got to work in developing what would eventually grow to be the Dual Model of Housing Care, providing culturally supportive housing alongside decolonized harm reduction.

“We needed to develop community, family, culture," said Hunt-Jinnouchie, who reflected on the transactional approach of the non-Indigenous housing system. “You can't quantify love."

Today the ACEH operates the Kwum kwum Lelum, House of Courage, a 43-unit building in West Victoria for the “Indigenous street family" with an on-site culturally supportive recovery program. The SpeqƏȠéutxw (SPAKEN) House offers culturally supportive housing and services to Indigenous women experiencing homelessness, with priority given to those fleeing violence.

Residents gain access to decolonized harm reduction programs and services which are grounded in land-based healing camps. Participants have reported that the camps have been a catalyst for wholistic change and improved mental wellness and healing. The ACEH has hosted over 25 camps, reaching more than 125 First Nations people struggling with mental illness and substance use challenges.

“How are we doing any better if all we're doing is giving them a warm safe place to die?" posed Hunt-Jinnouchi to the crowd, stressing that a harm reduction approach and pathways to healing are essential to any successful housing program. “People are saying we need safe supply. Sure we do. But not if there's nothing that goes beyond that. Then we're just part of the problem."

Hunt-Jinnouchi ​was one of several keynote presenters at the First Nations Health & Wellness Summit, an annual three-day event for community and health leaders and health system partners to develop wholistic wellness practices for First Nations in BC. The summit is an opportunity to shine a light on wise, community-led initiatives to support knowledge transfer and further innovation.

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