The shortage and inadequacy of on-reserve housing negatively affects individual and community well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Many Indigenous youth in northern areas are forced to leave their communities for urban centers in order to find housing. This moves them away from their families, into systems of housing that can be inappropriate, inadequate or precarious.
The Creating a Home for Our Youth project seeks to address the serious housing need among Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) youth. It will identify community-based solutions for fulfilling their right to housing and increase understanding of existing systems and programs. It will then share those findings with service providers, policy-makers and other stakeholders to inspire housing system change for NAN youth.
3 Key Goals
Identify existing housing challenges for Nishnawbe Aski Nation youth and understand their visions for alternative, appropriate housing systems.
Map and evaluate existing on- and off-reserve housing services and programs for Nishnawbe Aski Nation youth.
Document best practices for providing appropriate housing for youth, focusing on Indigenous contexts and share them with stakeholders.
Project scope and expected outcomes
Youth as a priority
In 2014, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Chiefs-in-Assembly, which represents 49 First Nations, declared a Collective Housing Emergency. This was in response to short housing lifespans, extreme mold growth, overcrowding and other housing-related factors in Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN). In 2018, the Chiefs-in-Assembly reaffirmed the ongoing housing crisis and mandated the development of a modern housing strategy for NAN.
During the creation of the strategy, housing for youth was identified as a priority. The shortage of on-reserve housing and overrepresentation of 3- and 4-bedroom housing creates waitlists that prioritize larger families. Youth and singles can remain on waitlists indefinitely, forcing many to move to distant urban settings. They also experience wellness challenges related to a lack of on-reserve:
- child and family services
Existing models of Indigenous housing, northern housing or housing for youth do not always address the unique housing needs of NAN youth. For instance, they do not adequately map the complex and systemic challenges faced by Indigenous youth in the North. Improving housing outcomes for youth demands a deep understanding of existing systems and their impact on youth. It also requires consulting with youth about their priorities and goals.
Placing Indigenous youth voices at the center of systems change
Creating a Home for Our Youth will ensure that Indigenous youth voices are at the center of systems change. With support from the National Housing Strategy Research and Planning Fund, the project will holistically approach youth housing in the NAN territory. This means understanding the current experiences of NAN youth, mapping and evaluating systems and programs, and envisioning alternatives.
The project has 4 primary objectives:
- Record the lived experiences of NAN youth. Identify the outcomes of existing housing challenges and understand their ideas for alternative, appropriate housing systems.
- Map existing on- and off-reserve housing services and programs aimed at NAN youth, highlighting service gaps or duplication.
- Develop an evaluation framework for existing housing services and programs based on youth priorities.
- Document best practices for providing appropriate housing for youth across the continuum and through lifecycles, focusing on Indigenous contexts.
The project will include many different stakeholders, but at its heart will be the lived experiences and priorities of NAN youth.
Understanding solutions to the housing challenges faced by NAN youth
Creating a Home for Our Youth will take place over 18 months and include 3 streams of research. The streams will complement each other, working to understand and develop solutions to the housing challenges faced by NAN youth.
The 3 streams are:
- Recording youth voices. This phase will build understanding of the current lived experience of NAN youth and their goals and priorities for the future. It will use an adapted form of participatory action research, informed by Indigenous research methods. It will use activities that encourage youth participation and maximize their input into the project.
- Global learnings. This phase will review and record best practices, evaluation criteria and service models. It will also conduct a review of youth-specific housing unit designs.
- Network mapping and evaluation. This phase will analyze existing housing service delivery systems that are specific to NAN youth. It will seek to identify the systems and service providers that form the multisectoral network of housing service providers. This will help create a system map and identify gaps and duplication in current housing service delivery models.
The project will cover nearly 550,000 square kilometers in northern Ontario. As such, the project and the suggested solutions will reflect the vastly different jurisdictions and contexts covered.
Synthesizing knowledge and best practices
The project will produce systems maps of existing programs and services, and a framework for evaluating them. It will also synthesize knowledge and best practices related to housing for Indigenous youth and outline alternative programs and services. These will be shared with key audiences, including:
- NAN youth
- First Nation leaders
- housing professionals
Materials will also be tailored for housing service providers and policy-makers.
While the project works with a very specific population (NAN youth), its methods and process may have wider implications. Its occupant-focused approach offers opportunities to explore housing solutions for other specific housing challenges, rather than using generalized solutions. Furthermore, its work could contribute to solutions to housing and wellness problems that affect the well-being of all NAN members.
Program: National Housing Strategy Research and Planning Fund
Project Team: Nishnawbe Aski Nation
Location: Nishnawbe Aski Nation
- Together Design Lab at Ryerson University
- Ryerson University
- University of Toronto
Activity Stream: Program of Research
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