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Brantford Native Housing creates opportunities for the urban Indigenous community

Community ProfileBrantford Native Housing creates opportunities for the urban Indigenous community

Brantford Native Housing (BNH) is a non-profit charitable corporation with the main objective to provide safe, secure and affordable rental homes for the urban Indigenous community in the city of Brantford.

The agency was first incorporated in Brantford in 1986 under the name HOTINOHSIONI INC..

“Way back, it was started as Hotinohsioni, which means ‘keepers of the Longhouse.’ The gentleman who created it was actually not Indigenous, but he believed that ‘God does not make more land, so buy it all up’ and so he started buying properties around the city,” said Danielle Russell, Director of Capital Development and Innovation at BNH. “He started the agency because he believed that we needed to support Indigenous people and then at the same time, he created a charitable organization, which was BNH, and that came a couple of years later before the two were merged into one.”

Russell said that while the agency’s mandate is to provide safe, dignified and equitable housing, she notes that there is a strong focus on inclusivity as well.

“When we talk about inclusivity, we’re talking about all the demographics of Indigenous people and that includes those experiencing homelessness, the youth, the young adults, older adults as well as Elders,” she said. “We keep those services inclusive because we cater to all age demographics of the Indigenous population.”

The organization now operates over 180 units (spread across 120 properties) of transitional, affordable and market level units for Indigenous households including Status, non-Status, Metis and Inuit families who are of low-income.

Pamela Hill Jamieson, Homelessness Outreach Support Worker and Abbie Quigley, Housing Outreach Coordinator, pose for a photo with new socks and underwear on Wednesday, November 15, 2023.

Russell describes transitional housing as helping individuals go from living on the streets or from shelters, and into a transitional home.

“These are individuals who haven’t had exposure to living in their own units before and may not have the life skills that come with that,” she said.

There are four types of transitional housing BNH offers, including: men’s transitional housing, women’s transitional housing (with, or without children), family transitional housing and youth transitional housing (with, or without children).

“Over the years we kept doing that housing support but then we started adding programming onto that for transitional clients,” said Russell.

BNH now provides support services such as health education, life skills, legal navigation, as well as personal development. On top of that it also provides classes, workshops, information sessions and other resources as a way for the urban Indigenous population to connect or reconnect with their culture.

“After a year or so, depending on the case, we then try to transition individuals into affordable housing once they are more settled, have a job and have their kids settled into school,” she added.

When it comes to affordable units, there are some that are rent-geared-to-income units, as well as deeply affordable units.

“In those cases, we might have an individual who can take care of themselves, and our Tenant Support Workers feel that they can thrive in their own space, but just aren’t making as good a cash compared to their neighbours and so we don’t exclude them because they can’t pay a higher rent,” said Russell.

She said that while the agency operates its own market units, it also has agreements with the federal government, provincial government, as well as some subsidy agreements with the City of Brantford for their other programs.

“With agreements at the municipal level, the City will provide 30 per cent of average market rent and when rent increases happen, they will meet that.”

Clothing donations for the Homeless Outreach Window are just one of the services Brantford Native Housing Supplies.

On top of its various housing models, the agency also has a temporary program in partnership with the City of Brantford that has 15 individuals housed in motels.

Throughout the years, the agency began looking at other ways they could support various communities throughout Brantford.

“As the rate of individuals experiencing homelessness started to rise in the 2000’s, we eventually started to try to determine how we could support those individuals as well,” said Russell.

Its community outreach program now also serves the houseless community, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, by providing food provisions, clothing and hygiene products, harm reduction supplies and First-Aid/medical items, safe contraception supplies and cultural supplies like traditional medicine (Sage, Cedar, Sweetgrass, Seashells and Bear Root).

Russell said that through its Homeless Outreach Window, this the team provided services to nearly 829 people in the month of October.

During Q2 of 2023, BNH provided 6,491 services to those experiencing homelessness and those in both transitional and affordable units.

Alma Arguello, Executive Director of BNH, encourages the urban Indigenous community to inquire with the agency if they need support.

“You don’t have to be status to come in and get some food and support. At the end of the day, we’re here for the urban community,” she said. “We have Ojibwe, Mi’gmag, we have Inuit and others. That’s what the urban Indigenous community is, it’s so diverse and it’s such a plethora of everybody. That diversity, that ability for us to create culture, provide medicine and food, and be supportive with housing? We may not have a lot to give but we do what we can and we get creative with how far we can stretch it.”

When it comes to those experiencing homelessness, Pamela Hill Jamieson, Homelessness Outreach Support Worker at BNH, said yes, while they work to support the Indigenous community, they also help everyone.

“At BNH, we serve everybody. It doesn’t matter if they are Indigenous or not, if they are housed or houseless, we help everybody that comes through the door,” she said.

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