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Leaders and citizens seek solutions to aboriginal homelessness together

Politicians, Aboriginal leaders, and community members gathered today for the first of what the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society hopes will be many multi-leveled discussions aimed at seeking solutions to Vancouver’s problem of aboriginal homelessness.

Jenifer Brousseau, a community and prevention outreach worker for the VATJSS and one of the organizers of the event, said that she hopes the discussion forums will connect members from all sections of the community and government to work together toward actual tangible solutions.

“I don’t want to shrug off what our clients have to say to us. Whether they’re homeless, whether they’re drug addicts, whether they’re prostitutes, I don’t want to shrug off what they have to say,” she told The Tyee at a break in the forum.

“We just wanted to take that to the next level and start a community discussion with both community members, homeless people, politicians, and the city leaders. To make some real changes, not just talk about it anymore, but hear the real stories and to find real solutions that will make real changes,” she said.

At the forum participants—including COPE city councilor Ellen Woodsworth, Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Jenny Kwan, and David Dennis, President of the United Native Nations—listened to community members, including aboriginals and non-aboriginals, relate personal stories of homelessness, eviction, or poor conditions in social housing and propose solutions to those problems.

Jenny Kwan, who said she became a politician because of issues surrounding homelessness, said such an integrated forum is integral to finding solutions for the aboriginal homeless population due to the mistrust many First Nations people have in the system because of historical injustices.

“So much of the solution I think needs to come from the people themselves and they need to be an equal partner at the table and not to be deemed as just an end user in terms of providing solutions to address the homelessness problem within the aboriginal community,” she said.

“We need to be identifying the resources, working with aboriginal people as true partners at the table, and then looking to them for the solutions so that they can also drive the agenda to finding the solutions, implementing the solutions, and operating the solutions down the road.”

Kwan said she plans to continue attending the forums and bringing the issues discussed to the table in legislature.

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee.

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