A Gateway To Homelessness In British Columbia And How To Close It

outdoor footpath, which is blocked by a gate
The Aboriginal Management Society and Community Living British Columbia are working to open the gate to supportive housing, one that has been closed to Indigenous people with divergent abilities.

A quagmire is the word one authority uses to describe the process to access publicly funded supports that are due to Indigenous people with diverse abilities. Failing to navigate the quagmire successfully can lead to homelessness.

The report linked to this post skillfully unpacks the quagmire in British Columbia, where Indigenous people are over-represented among the people experiencing homelessness. The report was researched and written by Dr. Krista Stelkia, who is based at Simon Fraser University.

Diverse abilities include a range of conditions including autism and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Both are more prevalent in Indigenous populations than for residents of Canada as a whole.

The issues described are challenging for anyone with diverse abilities, especially as they reach adulthood. Individuals must have a professionally confirmed diagnosis by the time they reach the age of majority in order to be eligible for services that are available to adults. Getting the diagnosis requires testing. There is a waiting list to be tested. The tests are costly and are not publicly funded. If the tests aren’t completed in time, public support is not available to an individual as an adult, ever.

In these circumstances, it would make sense for services to give priority access to Indigenous communities. However, as Stelkia documents, the opposite seems to be true.

For example, a young Indigenous woman who is completing testing is required to travel to the testing site, which is in a larger community. There is no public transit between where she lives and the community where the testing is done. The woman has been hitchhiking to complete the tests. She is well aware of the risks of hitchhiking, but has balanced those against the risks of not taking the tests.

This is layered with a general wariness on the part of Indigenous people toward government services. The wariness comes from a long history of settler-indigenous relations which put Indigenous people at risk. As can be seen in the example just given, this wariness continues to be justified.

Stelkia also documents differences in the way that indigenous and settler cultures think about diverse abilities. This is very helpful for people who are not familiar with Indigenous world view. With respect to Indigenous cultures, she writes:

“Concepts of disability and impairment were not and are not part of Indigenous languages and it is well documented that many Indigenous communities find the term contradictory to their beliefs around impairments.”

By comparison, most of the services that are available start from a much different place:

“Service provision for people with diverse abilities regularly defaults to the medical worldview, which is characterised as having a “label and fix focus” and centered on the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-V, developed by the American Psychiatric Association (2013).”

Stelkia provides readers with a clear understanding of how services fail to coalesce around Indigenous people who could benefit from support. Drawing on interviews with people who have experience with the system, the report lays out clear steps to make services work better.

The report is published by AHMA: Exploring Inclusive Housing For Indigenous Peoples Living With Diverse Abilities: An Environmental Scan

See also this news release about Stelkia’s research at Indigenous Watchdog: Report Finds Indigenous-Led Housing Essential to Addressing Increased Risk of Homelessness for Indigenous Peoples with Diverse Abilities