Elder Jo-Ann Saddleback remarked at a small outdoor pipe ceremony last week that we should pause to reflect on the notion of any school needing a graveyard. And, further, that only Indigenous schools have graveyards.
As a father, I had a hard time taking everything in this past week. It brought back what we learned when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission visited Edmonton in 2015. While we haven’t all borne witness to the many stories about residential schools, it’s never too late to start listening. Nor too late to speak up.
It is likely there will be more bodies found at the many school sites around Alberta, and let me add to the call that each site should all be searched, and any bodies found, honoured and brought home.
Meanwhile, the classmates — the ones who survived — need our collective empathy and our help now. They are hurting with this news, as are their families. While there are many stories of resilience and healing, many survivors passed on their traumas intergenerationally.
How could they not? Children were forcibly separated from their parental role models early in life. Then, there was all-too-frequent physical, sexual and psychological violence at the schools. Add foster homes, missing and murdered mothers, the ’60s scoop, and you have the ingredients for higher incidences of poverty, homelessness, addiction, victimization and suicide. These in turn become stereotypes that inform widespread and dehumanizing racism faced by Indigenous peoples.
The truth, however, is that Indigenous families and individuals alive today have survived an incredible, sustained and horrifying cultural genocide. Indeed, counter to those dehumanizing narratives, our survivors and intergenerational survivors may well be among the strongest human beings you might ever meet.
All this is particularly relevant as Edmonton is home to more residential school survivors than any other city in Canada. This fact also inescapably corresponds with enormous Indigenous overrepresentation in our homeless population. By a factor of 10.
Governments were primarily responsible for these injustices, and governments must take action. An elder once made it plain to us at City Hall: that housing is the best medicine for homeless people.
Fortunately, the federal government recently committed to ending chronic homelessness, and provided substantial new rapid housing resources that could easily deliver enough housing to accommodate all of the residential school survivors sleeping rough today — as well as the homeless veterans, refugee child soldiers, LGBTQ2S+ youth and others living with trauma.
All we need now is a modest ongoing commitment from the UCP government to embed the needed addictions and mental-health supports to keep people housed. This will help our agencies maximize federal housing aid for Albertans. Canada can provide survivors a stable home, dignity, mental wellness, and treat their addictions — but all governments must come to the table.
We are recently seeing a terrifying spike in opioid overdoses and deaths among our vulnerable communities. These deaths and suffering are preventable with the right supports, especially when embedded in dignified housing rather than shelters. In fact, Alberta Health Services has already committed to this model because evidence clearly shows housing first with supports substantially reduces harm and trips to the hospital.
Last week, Premier Jason Kenney said, “(t)he spirit of reconciliation is to learn from the wrongs of the past, to seek to remedy them, while knowing our history and moving forward together.”
Alberta’s government doesn’t need any more data or paperwork to justify ending chronic homelessness. They have all the details, and Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney just celebrated ending homelessness in Medicine Hat using the approach described above.
The premier has also heard repeatedly from our chamber of commerce and other business leaders that the human despair and associated street disorder is both heartbreaking and a threat to the economic recovery of our main streets and downtown.
Now, the premier needs to hear from you.
I’m calling on all Edmontonians to be agents of reconciliation and justice. We must manifest the leadership we want to see from and for our province. Write to your MLA. Call Premier Kenney’s office. And talk about this with your neighbours, family and faith communities.
Speak up today. Take action to support healing and reconciliation.
Original Article: https://edmontonjournal.com/opinion/columnists/iveson-housing-is-the-best-medicine-for-homeless-people