A family arrives at Inn from the Cold, the family emergency shelter where I work. A mother. Father. Three, four, maybe five children ranging in age from 4 to 12.
Life so many, they have come from ‘the reserve’. One of over 3,100 tracts of land set aside by treaty with the Government of Canada. A place that was designed to give Indigenous people ‘security of place’ in this land they once roamed freely. long before ‘First Contact’ with the white man.
The reserve is not an easy place to live. Vestiges of colonialism, inter-generational trauma, lack of housing, lack of safe drinking water, high rates of school drop-outs, drug use and suicides all paint an uncertain future for children.
This family came to the city months ago to find work, a home, and that better future they so desperately want. After wearing out their welcome on the couches and in the basements of family and friends they have come here, to the only place they can think of where they might just find a way out of despair, poverty, homelessness.
The Inn is not a home, but it is shelter. Safety. Refuge. It is a place where they can catch their breath, get help, find support to plug into the resources they need to move beyond housing crisis to a home. To step beyond instability to stability so their children can go to school, grow up and live the future they deserve.
Like so many who come to our city seeking a better future, they were not prepared for the realities and challenges of life and the cost of living here. They were not prepared for the discrimination, the racism, the hostility they found festering at the edges of our society or the lack of understanding of what it means to be Indigenous in our country.
We hold so many untruths about Indigenous people and culture. Like believing every Indigenous person gets thousands of dollars a year for doing nothing. Or that they’re all lazy and just looking for a free hand out. Or all drunks and unwilling to get sober.
It is hard to walk down the street with your head held proud when racial slurs are slung at you like nuclear fallout; just because of your heritage.
It is hard to get a job when you are judged first by the colour of your skin, not your credentials.
It is hard to find housing when the welcome mat is swept away because your skin is not white.
And it’s hard to see a better future for your children when the road you travel is strewn with man-made obstacles blocking your progress. It takes superhuman strength to throw the obstacles to the side of the road, a superhuman strength few of us possess, let alone a family searching for a better future.
Of the 1,000+ families the Inn will serve in a year, 60% are Indigenous, 25% new Canadians.
This is not a family issue, or an Indigenous issues, or an immigrant issue. It is a societal issue caused by our human practices.
Regardless of the colour of their skin, or the land of their birth, family homelessness isn’t about a mother and father and their children losing a home. It’s about society losing its way.
To build better futures we must start today to clear the road of the obstacles that prevent some members of our society from experiencing the same benefits, the same opportunities, the same freedoms we do.
And it begins with letting go of our beliefs of who ‘those people’ are and seeing them instead as fellow citizens who have not had the same opportunities as we do, even though they deserve them.
It means looking through eyes of caring and compassion, seeing the burden of the past not as a judgement of somebody’s worth today, but as a reflection of what happens when we believe ‘those people’ are not equal and because of their differences, must be put in their place.
The families who come to the Inn do not come because life is easy and they just want a free ride. They come because life has been hard and they have run out of options.
When the only road to a better future leads through that place called, ‘homeless’, a mother and father will do anything to help their children get there. And sometimes that means carrying a label that doesn’t sit well on your psyche or your skin, but is all you can carry to the Inn, ‘Homeless’.