Vital People: Helping to address safety concerns for Indigenous women

CHEK

For Indigenous women fleeing violence, SpeqĆŹČ Ă©utxw (Spaken) House is a sanctuary.

“It’s a pretty significant issue,” says Julia O’Quinn of the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness (ACEH). “I would say being the only cultural supportive housing provider in the city, we’re really seeing the need is far beyond what we’re able to support right now.”

And sadly, far too many Indigenous women end up on the street.

“A lot of the women who experience violence at home end up being evicted due to whatever has happened in their household, and that’s very difficult,” says ACEH outreach and communications manager Monique Huber. “That’s how they would end up on the streets, just because their partner was violent with them.”

They then face more violence on the street, so the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness is launching a three-year pilot project with the Victoria Police Department (VicPD) to try and address the serious safety concerns.

“They face a lot of violence and racism and they just don’t feel safe where they’re located so it was important for us to hear them,” says Monique. who led a three-day retreat with Indigenous women facing homelessness three years ago.

That retreat and information-gathering is now the basis for this pilot project, which with also work to build better relationships with police, since there’s often reluctance to go to the authorities.

“There’s a lot of distrust that exists in the community, just given the legacy of colonialism, the displacement from family and land that has happened, and a lot of that does come down to law enforcement and the role they played in that,” Julia explains.

But the VicPD was eager to try and build a better relationship and gain trust.

“It’s a learning experience, it’s an opportunity to be able to grow and learn from each other, and build a higher level of trust,” says VicPD Chief Del Manak. “It’s really incumbent on us all as community leaders to step up to the table and work with our Indigenous communities and leaders to find out what we can do to be more collaborative and work together.”

Julia realizes it will take time and is a long-term project, but she’s eager to make progress and propel positive change.

“It’s really important we break down those barriers, and meet people at that human level and just take the time to get to know each other beyond the institution and misconceptions we might have of each other,” she says.

If it’s successful, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness hopes to expand the pilot project Island-wide to make an even bigger difference.

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