Homeless Indigenous people suffering from mental health and addiction barriers are having difficulty finding adequate government services, according to an Indigenous organization that advocates on their behalf.
Andrea Wardell, a support worker at Tipi Moza Iron Homes, said roughly 70 percent of clients they currently serve at the Indigenous homeless shelter require mental health and addiction services. But the COVID-19 pandemic has closed down their usual supports, she said.
“Due to COVID-19, a lot of services were shut down,” Winnie Peters, the executive director at Tipi Moza Iron Homes, said.
The organization noticed that clients would immediately be sent back when they would refer them to addiction and mental health services outside of the organization.
“They would discharge them because they didn’t think that they needed the services,” Peters said.
Peters admits that they’re not mental health and addiction workers but said they try to do the best they can for those who need the extra support.
“We have some coping skills that we assist them [clients] with, but at the end of the day, we refer our clients to the agency that’s going to be able to assist them the best,” she said.
The organization has referred some of their clients to Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington’s mental health services.
The federal government indicated that financial hardship could be one reason that affects an Indigenous person’s mental well-being.
A 2020 report showed that 36 per cent of Indigenous participants had a difficult time meeting financial obligations because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even Peters has noticed a lot of people who come to the organization struggling to pay rent. “You know, somebody on the Ontario Disability Support Program gets $497 a month; you can’t even rent a room for $497 a month.”
One of Tipi Moza’s main priorities is to help Indigenous persons facing homelessness find affordable housing and provide mental health services to those in need.
Steve Teekens, the executive director of Na-Me-Res, an emergency shelter and housing organization, said they decided to facilitate their own mental health program at Na-Me-Res.
“We would send guys to the hospital for assessment if they were in psychosis or experiencing other mental health concerns… and they wouldn’t get treated at all, they’d get sent away,” he said.
That’s why the organization started their mental health program, Mino Kaanjigoowin, 12 years ago that is deeply rooted in Indigenous culture.
They also hired a nurse to accompany people to appointments if needed, Teekens said.
“We hired a nurse to accompany them to appointments who knows the system and will make sure they get proper care,” he said.
Although these organizations offer mental health and addiction services to those in need, they recognize that some people are not ready to access those services yet.
“It also depends on the client and how much they want to engage the services and support,” Wardell said. “For someone who’s not very sure of how to explain the situation, they may not receive the services they need, just because they can’t convey it.”
Wardell suggests that mental health services for the Indigenous community need to be more Indigenous-focused, like “connecting with the land and smudging,” she said. To Wardell, these supports might be able to provide people who come to the organization seeking mental health and addiction services with a better connection to their culture; something they most likely lost because of not living on reservations anymore, she said.