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Fifty people still need safe housing in Attawapiskat: Chief Spence

While 22 new mobile homes are now occupied, some 50 members of the Attawapiskat First Nation urgently need safe housing, and 23 others are in temporary housing, Chief Theresa Spence said in a May 11 news release.

Published on the Attawapiskat website on May 14, the release provided the first update in weeks on housing conditions on the reserve. The release, signed by Chief Spence, said:

Attawapiskat received 22 mobile homes over the last two months, all of which have now been installed in the community. All of these homes are now occupied by members of the First Nation, who (prior to the arrival of the mobile homes) did not have safe housing.

A 2011 Capital Planning Study found that Attawapiskat required an initial 70 new homes in order to safely house its members. The 2011 report outlined a plan to increase housing at Attawapiskat. Attawapiskat has requested the Department’s assistance in implementing that plan.

In the meantime, and despite the installation of the mobile homes, there remain dozens of families and individuals living in unsafe conditions at Attawapiskat. The First Nation has requested Canada's assistance, through the Department, in securing safe housing for all its members, in short term, and in the long term.

The short term measure is to address some 50 members of the Attawapiskat's First Nation who currently live in a set of ATCO construction camp trailers, donated to the community to provide short term relief for members of the Attawapiskat several years ago.

... There are no individual or private cooking or bathroom facilities in the construction ATCO trailers, no common sitting areas, and residents are "confined" to small, cell-like rooms. Many of our members living in these trailers are elders and children, and many suffer from poor health as a result of mold in the trailers and overcrowding. The close, confined quarters between families have given rise to an array of social ills, including domestic violence and increased interpersonal violence, in general, substance abuse, and depression.

... Last month, safety inspectors deemed the ATCO construction trailers as unfit for continued habitation.

Some 23 members have relocated, over the last several weeks, from the ATCO construction trailers to the First Nation's Healing Lodge, 7 kilometers west from Attawapiskat's village. While conditions at the Healing Lodge are better than those in the ATCO trailers, the Healing Lodge is not suitable as permanent housing for families.

There is no further capacity to absorb the remaining ATCO construction trailer residents into other housing available at Attawapiskat First Nation, so there is nowhere else for the 73 people living in the ATCO Trailers and the Healing Lodge to go.

Maintaining the Healing Lodge and the ATCO construction trailers costs the Attawapiskat First Nation approximately $50,000 per month. This money is therefore not available for other essential services, including the task of building safe and permanent housing for members.

Attawapiskat has asked for Canada's help in addressing the short and long term housing needs of those of its members who continue to live in unsafe conditions. Although a plan for addressing the permanent housing needs for all Attawapiskat's members was presented to Canada in 2011, there remain critical short terms housing needs that must be addressed immediately. The people living in the ATCO construction trailers, in particular, cannot wait for the implementation of a plan to build additional permanent homes on the reserve, which will take time.

The news release appears to be a response to a report published in the Toronto Sun on May 10:

"It appears the band management is again failing residents," said Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan. "The band management has a direct responsibility to provide residents with competent fiscal management and housing. The band management does not have a housing strategy despite several attempts by the government to co-operate on a plan."

The website of the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has not published anything about Attawapiskat since March 6, when it announced a contract for the construction of a new school on the First Nation.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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