A new supportive housing facility has opened in Victoria, giving 22 Indigenous women experiencing or at risk of homelessness a safe and culturally appropriate place to live.
The Spaken House, also known as Flower House, is a modular two-storey apartment building with 21 self-contained units, each with a private washroom and mini kitchen. Shared amenities include an office, laundry room, commercial kitchen and a dining lounge area. The Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness Society (ACEH) will operate the building and will have staff on site 24/7 to support residents.
The Province of B.C. provided $3.8 million to the project through the Rapid Response to Homelessness program and will provide annual operating funding of approximately $997,000.
According to a press release from the Province of BC, the Spaken House, located at 833 Hillside Ave., is the first supportive housing of its kind in British Columbia. It provides culturally appropriate supports for Indigenous women, as well as access to teachings from elders, traditional foods, cultural crafts and land-based healing. In addition, an elder and an "aunty" will be onsite two days per week to provide additional one-on-one support.
Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi, ACEH executive director, said Spaken House received more than 90 referrals of Indigenous women needing a home.
“We looked at trying to create a solid mix of people. We were looking at some who had been chronically homeless, they really need that break, others who were maybe starting to try to get their lives on track,” Hunt-Jinnouchi said. “We’re also looking at who has expressed a desire for culture and the spiritual part of what it is that we do as well.
According to a BC Housing homeless count from 2018, 36 per cent of the 931 people experiencing some form of homelessness in Greater Victoria identify as Indigenous.
“Our work has really been based on the voices of the street community from when we first started and it really framed everything around what their needs were,” Hunt-Jinnouchi said.
Back in 2016, Hunt-Jinnouchi and the ACEH did a survey of 100 people experiencing homelessness in Victoria’s downtown core and out of that 100, 48 per cent were from one of the tribal groups on Vancouver Island.
“I believe 32 were Nuu-chah-nulth out of the 48, that’s an extremely high number,” Hunt-Jinnouchi said.
Hunt-Jinnouchi said there are Nuu-chah-nulth women living in Spaken House.
“We were also able to house five people in independent housing in [Victoria’s] West Shore and two of those five were Nuu-chah-nulth,” she said. “We also have the culturally supportive house which is our Indigenous alcohol harm reduction program and we definitely have Nuu-chah-nulth in there as well.”
Additional unique features to Spaken House include a therapeutic garden with plants and natural medicines, which will serve as a resource for healing and well-being.
“The house is much more than a house…there really is the pathway to healing and recovery and reunification with families,” Hunt-Jinnouchi said. “We were able to work with BC Housing to include a townhouse which we call a family house. It’s a three-bedroom townhouse that is part and parcel to Spaken House and the goal there is to help provide a safe environment for the women to have visits with children in care, or children staying with extended family because from our lens that’s what lends itself to healing, getting stronger and strengthening [residents’] spirits.”
About nine women have already moved into the home with plans for the remaining residents to move in soon.
"Our people have been needing this for a long time and I hope it leads to more amazing housing successes,” said Gloria Roze, elder with ACEH in a press release. “I have seen land-based healing work for our people in positive and profound ways. Culturally supportive housing is a pathway for the spirit and internal growth. You feel the love when you step into Spaken."
Rob Fleming’s MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake, said Spaken House will provide urgently needed homes for Indigenous women in the community, surrounded by their tradition and culture, in a press release.