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Agreement signed by Thunder Bay DSSAB, Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Last year's point-in-time count found that there were at least 474 people living homeless in Thunder Bay, with 66 per cent of respondents identifying as Indigenous.
Naveau Kloosterhuis
Nishnawbe Aski Nation deputy grand chief Walter Naveau and Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board chair Lucy Kloosterhuis display copies of a memorandum of understanding that was signed on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. (Matt Vis,

THUNDER BAY – The Thunder Bay district’s social services provider and Nishnawbe Aski Nation are partnering with an aim to improve living conditions and give hope to people from Indigenous communities who are living homeless or in poverty.

The Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board and NAN on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding to pursue joint initiatives to reduce poverty and homelessness, while also improving health outcomes for vulnerable and marginalized members of the population.

The signing speaks volumes about where the direction the two groups are headed to address homelessness, said Deputy Grand Chief Walter Naveau.

“To me, it’s like giving a rebirth. It’s hitting the pavement running so that First Nations people, Indigenous people are not alone,” Naveau said.

“This is a very important moment. It’s giving hope to those who are homeless and destitute but also to know that NAN staff are working with them and the chiefs and other people out there who take an active role trying to bring back healing and restoration.”

The document pledges for both organizations to address identified priority areas, which include physical infrastructure to ensure adequate housing, financing and communication.

Board chair Lucy Kloosterhuis, who called the signing a momentous occasion, said putting pen to paper and formalizing the partnership is a stepping stone to move forward beyond just talking.

The collaboration with Nishnawbe Aski Nation will help make solutions more meaningful and effective, she said.

“We need that understanding and that knowledge to make this happen,” Kloosterhuis said. “This will never work without us working together.”

A 2018 point-in-time count down in the city of Thunder Bay found there were 474 people living homeless, with 66 per cent of respondents identifying as Indigenous.

That count also found that 80 per cent of the youth that participated were Indigenous.

Kloosterhuis said it’s important to start focusing on children and youth, to help ensure family unity to prevent instability that could lead to future homelessness.

“Just keeping them off the street I think is the one biggest step. Once any person has a concrete place they can call home, that gives them a sense of well-being,” Kloosterhuis said.

“Not having that stability, I think is what’s hardest for any human being to deal with. I’m hoping that this will be one of the first steps we work toward, just giving people a place to call home.”

Both Naveau and Kloosterhuis said the partnership will include a research component to find out why people are living homeless in Thunder Bay and what caused them to come to the city.

Naveau said that could lead to future lobbying to senior levels of government for enhanced services in Indigenous communities to keep people from having to leave home for larger urban centres.

“We’ve been in this dilemma for years in our communities,” Naveau said, adding that homelessness is an issue that goes beyond lack of shelter but also includes addiction and mental health issues.

“Through the data, we can work to identify all the communities and use that as a collective to say this is the information we have and as frontline workers and staff, we can work together to say what needs to be done.

The agreement is the third that Nishnawbe Aski Nation has inked with service providers in Northern Ontario, following the signing of similar frameworks with the Cochrane and Kenora district social services boards earlier this year.

About the Author: Matt Vis

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