I'm the president and CEO of Namerind Housing Corporation, as well as the chair of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association's indigenous housing caucus. We have a membership of around 140 indigenous housing and service providers from across Canada. Namerind is an indigenous non-profit housing provider here in Regina.
Our mission is to provide safe and affordable quality housing and economic development opportunities for indigenous people in Regina.
In 1977, our community determined a great need for affordable housing for indigenous people. Supply was an issue, but so was discrimination. We decided to take care of our own. Since then, that goal has led us on a journey that now includes so much more than a roof over the heads of our tenants. We are giving opportunity back to the indigenous community—the opportunity to create jobs, to create wealth and to create a sense of ownership. We focus on the importance of each staff member as an integral part of this team—first nations, Métis, and non-native and visible minorities.
We have also created community partnerships to better the broader Regina community. Together we believe we can provide safe, affordable and self-sustained housing to all those in need.
We wholeheartedly support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's principles as well as its calls to action. Reconciliation requires political will, joint leadership, trust building, accountability and transparency. As Canadians, we share the responsibility for establishing and maintaining mutually respectful relationships. We have to be honest about where we are.
My focus today is on Regina's indigenous homeless population. The most recent point-in-time count of homeless people in Regina was done in 2018. Though indigenous people make up 9% of Regina's population, they are 79% of the homeless population. Across Canada, indigenous people are struggling and homeless. In the same year, a point-in-time count was done in Toronto. In the general population, indigenous people represent 1% to 2.5%. They are 16% of the homeless population there and 38% of the outdoor population.
Regina's shelters are of the typical dormitory style with as many beds per square foot as possible, and they are full. Why are indigenous homeless people not sleeping in shelters? Why are so many of them on the streets of Regina, or the streets of Toronto for that matter? Many of our people struggle with mental health and dependency issues. The ensuing chaos makes it unlikely they will be organized enough to get a bed, but that is true of many non-indigenous people as well.
Where our people are sadly unique is in that we have grown up with the unimaginable damage that we, our parents and our grandparents have endured in residential schools. We grew up and shared their pain. The images are seared in all of our brains. When I think of residential schools, I see in my mind pictures of terrified indigenous kids in dormitories. For us, shelters aren't merely grim. They trigger despair.
It's really hard to be homeless in Regina. We saw a young indigenous man walking down the street in Regina on one of our coldest days in January of this year, just as we were starting to wrap our heads around COVID-19. It was -43°C, and he was dragging two shopping carts. Everybody drove by. We were in shock that anyone was walking outside in such cold temperatures.
We called our maintenance workers to pick up him and his belongings and to bring him back to our office. We tried reaching out to numerous shelters to no avail. Because it was two p.m., we could not use the after-hours line of social services. Every line we called told us to call somewhere else. It was frustrating. We gave him a furnished apartment, for which we reduced his rent, and we got him a telephone so he was able to make appointments.
Over the next four months, we worked with this young man to keep a roof over his head, to attend appointments and to start building a relationship with his mother. He applied for social assistance for his rent in February and finally received a payment on April 29. I'm not sure where anyone could live without rent payment for four months. This is the reason people remain homeless in Regina.
It is also hard to help a homeless person. Resources are scarce or non-existent. Existing shelters offer help for tonight but not for tomorrow. Prior to this young man getting help from Namerind, he spent his days walking the city. He slept in banks at night. He ate from garbage cans and shared the food he found with other homeless people. In order to stay warm, he would plug in a toaster oven and that's how he kept his hands warm. He's still our tenant and this young man and his mother are beyond grateful for the help that we've given them.
Our sense is now that the number of indigenous people who are homeless in Regina is much bigger since the onset of COVID-19. We see elders, mothers and kids that COVID-19 has forced onto the streets. They were precariously housed before and have been forced to leave by anxious hosts. We certainly are not used to seeing them in such numbers. They have nowhere to go. The places they accessed for food were closed for many weeks because of COVID. Donations were left outside and frequently plundered so nothing was left. We see long lines of indigenous elders, moms and kids lined up at churches for dinner. For many of them, it's the only meal they get that day.
COVID-19 has laid bare the magnitude of the problem. Our five shelters were not prepared for social distancing. How could they be when the design of those shelters was to fit in as many bodies as possible. Some of them simply closed during the early weeks of emergency measures.
Namerind is in the business of housing indigenous people. We could see right away what was badly needed and we knew we could help. We need a capital investment to provide transitional, transformational private accommodation with priority given to elders, women and children.
Housing is our business, so we quickly found a suitable downtown site for sale that could be easily refurbished. It has a commercial kitchen and dining area. Because it is a motel, there are plenty of individual rooms that can provide social distancing in the short run and privacy in the long run. We will need a directly funded service provider to run the facility and provide appropriate services. Our goal is to welcome the residents to a Namerind apartment or house when they are ready. Our transitional housing will truly be transformational. Unlike shelters, we will work with partners to put mental health and addiction supports in place. We want our people to recover, not just have a roof over their heads.
We have two recommendations. Canada needs to recognize that 87% of indigenous people live in Canada's cities. They deserve a housing program that addresses their needs. The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association's indigenous caucus has recommended that the federal government introduce an urban, rural and northern indigenous housing strategy.
Recommendation two is to provide $2 million to Namerind Housing to purchase 1009 Albert Street in Regina, so it can be converted into COVID-compliant indigenous transitional housing.
In summary, Regina has an indigenous homelessness crisis. It's hard to be homeless in Regina. COVID-19 laid bare the shortcomings of the existing shelter system and forced elders, moms and kids onto the streets. The legacy of residential housing means indigenous people are more at risk, and they reject dormitory housing. We have a plan to help.