A group of researchers and community leaders in Winnipeg have shared a new framework to help other cities bring Indigenous perspective into their version of the housing-first approach and tailor it to fit individual communities.

"We needed to take a largely top-down, federally developed project … to the Winnipeg site," said Jino Distasio, director of the University of Winnipeg's Institute of Urban Studies and the lead author of a report called Indigenizing Housing First: Localized Approaches to Ending Homelessness. "We knew, based on decades of experience in Winnipeg, that having strong community voices, community leadership and, in this case, Indigenous cultural inclusion at all elements [was important]…"

Winnipeg’s 2018 street census found that 60% of people experiencing homelessness are Indigenous and 50% have spent time in CFS care. For this census, volunteers interviewed about 1,500 homeless people. At that time, the author of the report on the effort said that number is likely a dramatic underestimation of the total number of people in the city who don’t have secure housing.

Distasio said that when a federally funded project called At Home/Chez Soi launched in 2009, the housing-first approach – based on New York City’s Pathways program – was radical. The idea was to tackle homelessness by focusing on housing as the first step and then make individualized supports and services available to people in need.

Ten years since the project launched, Distasio said that the housing-first approach has become the “gold standard” for fighting homelessness. From the original five pilot cities, the approach has grown to see implementation in about 70 Canadian cities, as well as urban centres around the world, according to a CBC report.

"We just hope that people understand that as housing first and other approaches get pushed into their community, that they just take a moment and pause, and think about it through the lens of the local," Distasio said.

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