aboriginal homelessness in canada
In 2017, the Reputation Institution ranked Canada the most reputable country in the world in its Reptrak survey. In fact, in the prior six years that the institution conducted the RepTrak survey, Canada never ranked worse than second. Many know the country for its welcoming disposition, health care and welfare programs. Unfortunately, Aboriginal homelessness in Canada proves that the quality of life is very poor for one particular minority group.

The Problem

Every country, no matter the reputation, faces its own set of problems. For Canada, a key problem is the under-representation of Aboriginal voices in government and the over-representation of Aboriginals living in the streets. Indeed, one of the most reputable countries in the world contains an impoverished indigenous population, a remnant of the atrocious treatment of aboriginals since colonial times.

Caryl Patrick, a York University researcher finds that “Aboriginal homelessness in Canada is a crisis that should be considered an epidemic.” He attributes this to the disproportionate native representation in homeless populations. In major urban zones, Aboriginals account for between 11 percent to almost 100 percent of the homeless population, even though only 4 percent of the Canadian population is native. In Yellowknife, the Northwest Territories, 95 percent of the homeless population is native.

A study by the Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia found that aboriginal Canadians face a different set of challenges than non-Aboriginals. On the issue of homelessness, these inequalities are very evident.

Aboriginal people in Canada are 10 times more likely than non-Aboriginal people to become homeless. Although homeless people all have similar challenges, Aboriginal homeless people have to deal with the additional issues of racism and discrimination. Exclusionary practices in treatment programs that should address everyone equitably exacerbate the problem.

Reports state that Inuit populations in Montreal avoid using shelters and charitable organizations because they experience discrimination from not only the non-native workers that serve them but from non-native homeless people as well. In addition, Aboriginal homeless people are more likely to be younger and completely homeless rather than in a shelter. It is clear that the Aboriginal homeless in Canada face more difficult challenges than non-native homeless.

Cause of Aboriginal Homelessness

Aboriginal homelessness in Canada is part of the larger issue of homelessness, housing inadequacy and poverty in Canada. Moreover, Aboriginal homelessness intricately connects to their history with the Canadian government. The aforementioned exclusionary practices which only perpetuate the racism and poverty in Canada are a symptom of a failure to provide culturally appropriate services that take into consideration the scars of intergenerational trauma. In any case, when a service does not tailor to its users, it is less effective.

There are general pathways to homelessness, but for the native population, there are many more. Beyond the broader context of increasing income inequality and decreasing availability of affordable housing across Canada, Aboriginal people must cope with unresolved historical and cultural trauma and discriminatory community systems and services.

Solutions

Like any other systemic, structural problem, the Canadian government has made funding commitments toward the housing and well-being of both reserve and urban-dwelling Aboriginal people. In 1999, the federal government allocated $753 million toward resolving homelessness across the country. The government devoted $59 million to addressing urban Aboriginal homelessness, and it continues to replenish the budget as the problem continues. However, money alone cannot solve the problem.

Some Aboriginal-specific healing strategies have proven effective. In order to successfully reverse historical and cultural trauma, people must apply culturally appropriate and responsive methods. An example of this approach on a local level is the Lu’Ma Native Housing Society in Vancouver, BC. The program provides 300 culturally-appropriate and affordable housing units for low-income Aboriginal peoples and offers culturally-relevant programs like ceremonial activities and traditional clothing and jewelry making courses.

Additionally, the Society ensures Aboriginal representation at employee, management and board levels. Culturally responsive programs like these decrease Aboriginal homelessness in urban centers and combat discriminatory practices.

On a national level, the Canadian government has launched Reaching Home, a strategy that aims to prevent and reduce homelessness by doubling support for at-risk communities. Communities involved in Reaching Home are attempting to reduce chronic homelessness by 50 percent. In 2016, the government doubled its investment in reducing indigenous homelessness. Reaching Home played a key role by supporting the delivery of culturally appropriate responses to the needs of Aboriginals in vulnerable conditions, including women, youth and mothers.

Looking Ahead

People often overlook Aboriginal homelessness in Canada, even though the country has a top-tier reputation. It is a complex aspect of poverty that intricately connects the larger issue of homelessness to the nuanced history and culture of Aboriginal peoples. Although only 4 percent of the population is native, the over-representation of indigenous peoples living on the streets is a startling statistic. It illustrates the magnitude of the issue and the need for resolution. Hopefully, through local and nationwide efforts that fund and support communities in need through culturally appropriate approaches, perhaps every person living on the streets can find not just shelter, but a home.

Andrew Yang
Photo: Flickr

 

Child Witch HuntThree priests stand around Joy, a 15-year-old girl, pinching and slapping her. Joy, like many other children, is a victim of the child witch hunts in Nigeria. “My grandmother was sick, and her leg became very swollen. She said I was the one responsible, that I was a witch,” Godbless told Al-Jazeera. Now he is one of the many street children on the outskirts of Calabar, scouring dumpsites for plastic bottles and cans to cash-in for food.

Child witch hunts are not exclusive to Nigeria. Cases have been documented in Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bolivia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and even communities in Europe and the United States.

The “Simple” Answer to Complicated Problems

In some regions, witchcraft has become a way to explain misfortune and hardships, such as death, divorce or illness in families and communities. A part of the problem is limited knowledge about illnesses, which when coupled with strong cultural beliefs, prompts people to search for metaphysical answers. Children who seem aggressive, solitary or have physical deformities are more likely to be accused, as well as orphans raised by relatives, such as Godbless.

Children and even babies have been branded witches, and cases of abuse include being ostracized, chained, starved or beaten. Some children are even set on fire and are beheaded. Humanitarian organizations have reported an increase in accusations of witchcraft over the past 10 years and especially against children.

In the Niger Delta, child witch hunts are a manifestation of severe socio-economic problems, such as poverty, conflict and HIV/AIDS. Although the region has an abundance of natural resources it remains crippled by economic underdevelopment, inequality and environmental degradation, with up to 46 percent of the population living in poverty. The average daily wage is a little more than a dollar. Economic pressure and misfortunes make children in the Delta an easy scapegoat for familiar problems. In the Congo, the first cases of child witchcraft came with the rise of urbanization due to poverty and war, and the emergence of religious sects.

Homelessness is a Common Outcome

In 2010, researchers found that 85 percent of street children in Akwa Ibom, a state in Nigeria, were accused of witchcraft. An earlier report estimated that 15,000 children in Akwa Ibom and Cross River were accused. In Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 20,000 street children were victims of the child witch hunt phenomenon. In 2017, 640 boys and more than 1,000 girls between the ages of 6 and 17 were accused of witchcraft in the Congo and subjected to violent exorcisms.

Examples of Solutions

Despite these concerning statistics, today, there are numerous local and international organizations dedicated to protecting victims, raising awareness of child abuse and improving education, legislation and law enforcement.

Nigeria’s criminal code and 2003 Child Rights Act outlaws abuse and accusations of witchcraft, although implementing the law at the state level has been slow. Only three-quarters of Nigeria’s states have domesticated the law. The charity, Safe Child Africa, however, was able to persuade the Akwa Ibom state government to make child witchcraft accusations illegal. By investing in sheltering and educating alleged child witches, Akwa Ibom is the only state that is specifically providing for the abuse of children accused of witchcraft.

In Cross River, UNICEF has been working with the ministry of sustainable development and social welfare to address their version of the Child Rights Act, which does not explicitly outlaw witch-branding. Cross River’s 2018 budget included shelter for children at risk of being accused of witchcraft.

The orphanage DINNoedjaelp – founded by the Danish humanitarian Anja Ringgren Loven – provides medical care, food and education to over 30 alleged child witches. “Right now, Nigeria is the African country with the most children out of school. When the Nigerian government does not use agents to inform and educate, we must through our educational work try to stop the superstition,” Loven told People Magazine.

Reuniting Families

The small Nigerian volunteer organization, Today for Tomorrow, meets street children near the Lemna dumpsite in Calabar – where Godbless now lives – to provide food and health care. Way to Nations, DINNoedhjaelp and other Nigerian organizations do not only rescue children but try to reunite them with their families as part of restoring and educating communities.

“Home visits is the most important part in our advocacy program. When children, who were previously accused of being witches come back to their family and village again, and look healthy, strong, speak good English, have gotten their confidence and hope back, that gives the whole village something to think about,” Loven said of reuniting the children with their families.

Ending child witch hunts requires education just as much as addressing widespread poverty. After government agencies held a series of meetings regarding the issue of child witches and abuse, religious and civil liberty organizations began working to end the hysteria, including several Nigerian Pentecostal churches, who mobilized people through sermons, print media and film. According to Dr. Utibe Effiong, churches have started producing movies that highlight the damage these accusations cause.

Although change is happening, the fight is far from over. Providing a stable future for children in Nigeria and beyond means alleviating poverty by revitalizing economies and educating the masses, so cultural and economic change can happen.

– Emma Uk
Photo: Flickr

 Abandoned Infants in PakistanAt just over a month old, Fatima was given away on live television. Fatima is just one of many children orphaned in Pakistan after being abandoned in trashcans and dirty alleyways. Placed in piles of rubbish, these infants are dying by the hundreds every year. On his show, “Amaan Ramzan,” Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain famously gives away cars and other luxury items to families in need. However, the show made world news after giving Fatima and another baby girl to a family who are unable to have children. As he explains, “These children are not a part of garbage, are not a part of trash, so we took these children from the garbage, from the trash and delivered them to the needy people, the needy parents.” Fatima’s new mother, Tanzeem Ud Din, said that she hopes the show will help encourage others to adopt children in need.

While the cause of the trend to abandon children remains unknown, many have their theories. One father who adopted two of these afflicted children and wishes to remain unnamed said, “it could be people not wanting children, women on their own or a couple that did not go through with an abortion.” He says religious belief plays a great roll in this. Many perish in the litter before they can be rescued. The lucky ones make it to orphanages dedicated to helping abandoned children. The father described his visit to the orphanage he adopted from sites of children with fear on their faces, crying because they had been dropped off two days ago when their mother died and their father left to remarry. Many of the children here live without a birth certificate or any paperwork for identification.

While the situation is horrific, many are working on solutions that will help save these children’s lives.

  1. Improvements to legislation: According to Director of the Imkaan Welfare Organization, Tahera Hasan, “Solutions don’t lie with philanthropic institutions and they never will. We are literally a drop in the ocean as far as the larger landscape is concerned.” In 2016, the Upper House of Parliament passed its first-ever bill to help abandoned children. Un-attended Orphans Rehabilitation and Welfare Act was written to protect the rights of orphaned children and ensure housing, education and healthcare.
  2. Decreasing poverty rates throughout Pakistan: According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2015–2016, 39 percent of the population lives in poverty. In contrast, the country has a total fertility rate of 2.55, according to the CIA Factbook, putting it at number 76 for world fertility rates. As a comparison, the United States is 142 on this list. Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms says poverty reduction is one of the main objectives of Pakistan’s Vision 2025.
  3. Improving adoption services: According to Hasan, “There is no formal structure for adoption in place here, it is not recognized by the state.” Hansan is dedicated to the support of families adopting in Pakistan with the Imkaan Welfare Organization. Adoption remains mainly unregulated in Pakistan, with no paperwork for these children.

Social worker Ramzan Chippa said, “Parents who are adopting babies want healthy babies.” However, many orphaned children are described as severely mentally ill, one father even noticing a boy tied up in his orphanage to prevent him from taking bites out of his own arm. As a result, organizations such as Imkaan Welfare Organization are necessary to help these children become adoptable and find homes to be placed in.

The unnamed adoptive father referred to the child crisis in Pakistan as “unfinished business.” For countless children abandoned in dumpsters and litter, that is what their life is. Until Pakistan can adequately care for the thousands of unwanted children born every year, their existence will seem unfinished as they are homeless, purposeless and without a family.

Maura Byrne
Photo: Flickr

Poland’s Rising Homeless Population
When one first looks at the statistics of Poland’s homeless population and rates, it does not appear as bad as other Eastern European countries. Unfortunately, it is quite hazardous to be homeless in Poland. With deadly cold weather during the winter and spring, along with few programs to help solve this problem, many who live or come to this country make it a point to avoid living on the streets. Here are seven facts about Poland’s rising homeless population.

7 Facts About Poland’s Rising Homeless Population

  1. Homeless Statistics: Many of the homelessness statistics appear outdated and inconclusively gathered. The Polish government had announced that there were around 33,408 homeless people within the country. Many, however, believe that these statistics have grossly underexaggerated this number and that the actual number is much higher.
  2. Homelessness Duration: One of the more damaging statistics to the homeless situation is that not only is the number of homeless growing in Poland, but people are staying homeless for longer durations. In 2017, records determined that around 25 percent of the homeless population were staying homeless for over 10 years with no sign of their situation improving. More people within the country are finding themselves homeless for longer durations, in spite of emergency care and other NGO programs.
  3. People Who Are Homeless: The homeless population does not comprise of just Polish citizens. It also includes asylum seekers and refugees, with most hailing from Chechnya. Many of these Chechen refugees and asylum seekers are seeking a safe haven from persecution within their homelands, and have actually gotten along well with other homeless in Poland.
  4. Rising House Prices: A large reason for the rising homeless rates is the rising housing prices, not just in Poland, but within Europe in general. Large cities within Poland such as Warsaw, Krakow and Gdansk have seen a 7.11 percent increase in prices. This is mostly due to low supply, high demand and a decline in low-cost housing among young adults. This may be good for homeowners and real estate investors, but it is to the detriment of those who cannot afford the rising housing prices. Out of the seven facts about Poland’s rising homeless population, this might be one of the most impactful.
  5. Housing Program: A housing program that allows for subsidies to housing within cities could give the homeless a chance to live in a training flat that the Camillian Mission for Social Assistance runs. Unfortunately, this program does not cover medical costs which can lead to a person’s inability to work, and in turn, make them unable to pay what they need to stay in the aforementioned flats. This program has not released a success rate, but some believe that it is lowering every year.
  6. Health Care: Another crippling factor for the homeless population is other faulty social programs that cannot properly support the population. Accessing health services for the homeless is difficult mainly because of bureaucratic requirements that homeless people cannot meet more often than not because of their situations. In 2018, however, the government put a new law into place that allowed it to cancel its requirements for health care so that Polish citizens could receive free health care that the state budget paid for.
  7. NGO and Community Programs: After analyzing the situation, the E.U. has concluded that Poland’s situation is similar to the Portuguese. The E.U.’s analytics since 2018 have deduced that although Poland had put programs in place to try and deal with the issue of homelessness, around 90 percent of services that people receive come via NGOs and other community groups that receive financing from local authorities. The NGOs, however, do not help fix the problem of reintegrating the homeless into a liveable situation, as they are more equipped for emergency situations.

As these seven facts about Poland’s rising homeless population shows, the Polish government is trying to help those who find themselves down on their luck, but the problem has festered due to inefficient programs. Though these programs clearly aim to help people in dire situations, they do little to solve the overall problem of keeping people off of the streets. The country will clearly appreciate help from the E.U., but the way Poland uses the money will determine people’s fates.

Collin Williams
Photo: Flickr