A safe place to call home
Homeward Bound strives to put people in good places. Through the program, indigenous residents are getting help finding reliable, safe housing.
At the end of the day, Natasha FindlayClairmont has a safe place to go — a house that she can build a life from.
But it’s not just a house, it’s a home, with her beautiful handmade dreamcatchers filling a small, but bright living room and two bedrooms where her kids no longer have to worry about how low the thermostat will dip overnight.
“It’s everything to me, at the end of the day, taking your shoes off and knowing you are safe,” she said.
This home came just in time for the 30year-old single mother who was evicted from a downtown apartment last year after it was sold to a new landlord. She lived there for two years without heat, but couldn’t find any place new and was facing homelessness, again.
That’s where Homeward Bound, a housing first program that runs out of De dwa da dehs nye>s Aboriginal Health Centre, stepped in. Since it launched in 2015, it has found housing for 92 people who identify as indigenous in Hamilton, said team lead Dick Passmore.
The housing first initiative helps connect homeless or precariously housed people with stable residences. They act as an advocate for the men, women and families and a go-between with landlords.
Participants don’t have to be involved in other programming but the team includes a nurse practitioner and social workers who can help connect them with medical care or social services.
“The key is reconnecting to culture and community,” Passmore said, adding the team offers “wraparound” care.
They don’t tell participants what to do, but rather say, “We’re going to walk with you.”
The team does outreach on the streets, takes referrals from other agencies and has even had clients refer friends.
There are specific risk factors for homelessness among Hamilton’s indigenous population because of the impacts of systemic racism, institutionalization, intergenerational trauma and poverty. The program is successful in reaching people who otherwise are likely to fall through the cracks because many don’t trust mainstream institutions.
Indigenous people make up about 3 per cent of Hamilton’s population, but more than 40 per cent of the homeless population, according to a 2015 survey, Passmore said.
Before finding the Homeward Bound team, Findlay-Clairmont says she was calling every social service agency across the city looking for affordable housing.
“You’re just a number, just a file at the bottom of a pile.”
She has been on her own since she was 13. She’s resourceful and doesn’t like to ask for help. But she really needed it.
A year ago, she was hit by a car, causing lingering injuries and PTSD.
At the time, she was studying full-time at Mohawk College, raising her kids and trying to find a safe place to live.
Finally, Findlay-Clairmont says she broke down at a medical appointment at De dwa da dehs nye s. A doctor brought her case to the housing team, who found her home through a partnership with Urban Native Homes.
She moved into her home in January, just days before she would have been homeless.
It was the “hardest couple months of my life,” she said of the time between getting the eviction notice and finding her new home.
She graduated in April with a diploma in early childhood education and was awarded the Indigenous Student Award for Perseverance.
Now she has less than a month to find a job or file for social assistance as an income is needed to keep her home.
Not all of those that the program helps are as successful at Findlay-Clairmont. Some have mental illness, addictions, legal issues or brain injuries.
The team is always looking for new apartments or landlords willing to work with them — a challenge in a city that does not have enough affordable housing. Finding accessible housing is a particular challenge.
Still, more than 90 per cent of the 92 people housed through the program remain in their new residences, Passmore said.
“All these layers of support are so people don’t fall through the cracks.”
Natasha Findlay-Clairmont moved into her new home in January, just days before she would have been homeless.
Dick Passmore, the team lead for Homeward Bound, says cultural and community connections are important for clients.