Since the end of June, homeless individuals with substance-abuse issues have been without a place to lay their heads at night after the temporary facility that the city of Val-d’Or provided for them closed its doors. There is now hope that these already marginalized and mainly Aboriginal individuals may get shelter for the winter but progress is slow and government funding has not been forthcoming.
Over the summer, the Nation ran the first two parts of a series detailing the homelessness crisis in Val-d’Or; this is the third, and final part in the series.
To recap the first two parts that the Nation published, Val-d’Or, like any city in North America, has facilities for the homeless, such as shelters and day programs, where individuals can get access to social and psychological services. It also has a Native Friendship Centre, which can also provide temporary lodging to Natives travelling through town. But if you are homeless and are under the influence, there is no permanent facility available.
In the fall of 2008, because of the growing need, community groups along with the Centre de santé et de services sociaux de Vallée-de-l’Or (CSSSVO) declared the situation a crisis as there was no facility to house the homeless and winter was coming.
The response was to start a pilot project called le Dotoir (the Dorm) to provide nighttime shelter, meals and showers to these individuals. The CSSSVO was only able to roll out funding from November to the end of June as the project was only supposed to be temporary until something more permanent could be worked out with the Agence des CSSS for Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
When the facility closed its doors in June however, there was no plan to reopen le Dotoir in Val-d’Or because of a dispute between different branches of government and social groups as to who was actually homeless and whether the problem should be addressed in relation to substance abuse.
During le Dotoir’s first year, the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre (VDNFC) also conducted a study on the situation, titled Field Study on Homelessness. What the report was able to show was that not only are Aboriginals overrepresented in terms of being homeless in Val-d’Or but that they are also a marginalized group within a marginalized group.
Now, in November, as the weather turns bitterly cold and the homeless are sleeping on the city’s streets, Val-d’Or has just held its first symposium, titled Aboriginal Views on Homelessness.
The one-day event was put on by the VDNFC in conjunction with La Piaule de Val-d’Or, DIALOG, an Aboriginal research network, and ODENA, a university research group.
Edith Cloutier, the VDNFC’s Executive Director, organized the event along with Sharon Hunter, the Centre’s Director of Social Development and a board member at La Piaule. The goal of the November 9 event was to assemble everyone involved from government, justice, social development groups, street workers, shelters and other involved service providers to educate them as to the realities of Native homelessness.
Because l’Agence in particular had argued that they were not responsible for providing for Aboriginals because they should be provided for by their home communities where they receive municipal funding and that therefore the Aboriginals on the streets are not in fact homeless, Cloutier said she felt that the symposium was necessary.
“The CSSS, the Friendship Centre and La Piaule have the same thinking on how we should strategize. It is l’Agence that seems to have a hard time understanding that vision,” said Cloutier.
The vision that she was speaking of was one to offer a permanent service to the homeless under the influence instead of only providing a temporary solution for half of the year.
According to Cloutier, the symposium was a tremendous success as 70 attendees from various branches of government, the Cree Health Board, representatives from the Algonquin community, the Sûreté du Québec, concerned social groups and various other individuals took in a series of lectures on Aboriginal homelessness issues in Quebec and abroad.
“It created an opportunity to develop a common vision on how we should move forward in terms of developing a strategy to fight homelessness here in Val-d’Or with the (ethnic) specificity that we have in this territory,” said Cloutier.
According to Hunter, who moderated the event, l’Agence made a presentation on Quebec’s new interdepartmental provincial strategy to combat homelessness and how it would be adapted locally by 2013.
“They talked a lot about working together. They seemed to prioritize the youth a great deal in terms of helping them and adapting programs for that particular clientele, but there was nothing for adults or Natives,” said Hunter.
According to Stéphane Grenier, President of the Board for La Piaule and director of the Masters in Social Work program at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the local CSSS has become an advocate for le Dotoir over the summer months.
After being interviewed by the Nation in August in regards to La Piaule and the extensive research that he has done on homelessness in the region, Grenier was happy to report that CSSS Director Jerome Lamont had taken over the file when it came to fighting for funding from l’Agence for the reopening of le Dotoir.
At the same time, Grenier said there is no money yet for him to hire a staff or begin to order utilities, despite the fact that the CSSS told local media that le Dotoir would be up and running by November 15.
“Lamont called us and the other partners involved to re-open le Dotoir. I met with him on November 3 and he said he would go to Rouyn Noranda to see l’Agence to ask for a letter confirming $100,000 in funding for le Dotoir.
“But, this has yet to be confirmed. He asked this week for it and asked for the letter. We were told last year that there is money for us but later on the money wasn’t there so Lamont paid for it out of his (discretionary) budget,” said Grenier.
By press time Grenier was still without an answer as to whether the funding would come through for the temporary shelter. But regardless, Grenier has signed a lease to house the facility until next June.
Still, Grenier said the funds they will get pale in comparison to areas like Montreal where similar facilities get exponentially more to serve smaller shelters with far fewer beds.
In regards to a more long-term solution, because there is a plan already in place to drastically renovate La Piaule, Grenier and his team decided that they would include a separate wing to house le Dotoir permanently. The only problem is that l’Agence still has not committed to funding operational or funding costs.
Grenier has had to delay the rebuild of the facility for months to see whether there would be any form of contribution to run le Dotoir within La Piaule.
Recently, Grenier was told by Lamont that the CSSS would be able to handle funding for human resources and operating costs at le Dotoir, but this was contingent on getting funding from l’Agence. But, Grenier has received conflicting messages from l’Agence about how the homelessness issue was not a big enough concern to fund a separate wing. While Grenier was able to acquire private funding from other groups, the Cree Health Board included to the toll of $18,000, he is fearful that l’Agence won’t come through with long-term funding to keep the facility running for years to come.
“They said this in the summertime. Now they are saying it is an issue for this year but perhaps not for next year. I heard somebody in the community speak about how they are trying to find another organization to handle the homelessness issue in the community instead of us and so we may build this whole shelter for nothing,” said Grenier.
Grenier believes that it is because the l’Agence still is in denial that there is an actual homeless issue in Val-d’Or when it comes to Aboriginals who are under the influence because they are still perceived as “nomads.”
After spending the entire day at the symposium as a participant and presenter, despite the fact that the Agence representatives in charge of the funding for the First Nations file and the region sat in front of him during his presentation, Grenier still had no word of whether the money would be available.
What Grenier can currently confirm is that le Dotoir will not be opening up for November 15 and hopefully funding will come through for it as soon as possible. Though construction will soon start on the new La Piaule, which will have sufficient space for le Dotoir, Grenier was uncertain whether it will ever be used.
“We are dealing with Aboriginal homelessness and there is a whole question as to whether they should be paying for services to go to Aboriginals? Should l’Agence pay for Aboriginals when they have their own communities and they have money? It is as though they are asking us whether they should be putting out money for Aboriginals to be drunk in the streets. In my eyes, this is a form of racism,” said Grenier.