Suspicious lodge fire endangers Indigenous homeless winter shelter, fears racism

The indigenous organization preparing to operate a winter shelter on the River Road golf course is appealing for help to find a “suitable and safe place” after a suspicious fire ravages the lodge.

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The indigenous organization preparing to operate a winter shelter on the River Road golf course is appealing for help to find a “suitable and safe place” after a suspicious fire ravages the lodge.

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The blaze caused $ 1 million in damage and prompted police and the Ontario Fire Marshal to investigate the cause.

The destruction uprooted a native-run shelter for up to 30 people that was due to take shape this month, starting December 1, assuming city council gives it the green light.

“It is unlikely that a coincidence is that a property that has not been touched for at least last year was set on fire two days after Atlohsa publicly announced it as a resource to support homelessness Aboriginal ”, Raymond Deleary, Executive Director of Atlohsa Family Healing Services. , said in a statement.

He said the agency “cannot help but link this to other experiences of anti-indigenous discrimination in London”.

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Indigenous people are vastly over-represented among the city’s homeless population, accounting for 2.6% of London’s total population, but almost a third of the homeless.

“We are now facing another iteration of Indigenous homelessness as the program has been moved due to an act of violence,” Atlohsa wrote in a statement.

The indigenous non-profit organization, also leading the Giwetashkad strategy – a plan to tackle indigenous homelessness in London – was to operate the winter shelter and support residents with ties to the land and culture.

Giwetashkad’s Indigenous Homelessness Plan, released in 2020, emphasized “the need for at least one culturally appropriate outdoor space where Indigenous people living in London could spend time together and build community bonds, solidarity and pride ”.

There are few options outside of River Road, Atlohsa said.

“We have very few alternatives left,” said Andrea Jibb, director of community planning at Atlohsa, of the future of the Aboriginal-led winter response.

“We would like to appeal to the community to support us in our efforts to find a suitable and safe place that meets our needs to support land-based healing for homeless Indigenous people.

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Dozens of firefighters responded shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday at the River Road Golf Club at 2115 River Rd.

City hall said in a statement the clubhouse was “fully involved” and officials would determine the fallout from the winter response in the coming days. The pavilion was to be part of the plan by providing space for showers, meals, and community and other programs.

London police have resumed investigation after the fire was deemed suspicious. Anyone with information is urged to call the police at 519-661-5670 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

The Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal – which investigates all fires causing serious injury or death, fires causing more than $ 500,000 in damage and suspected arson – was expected at the scene on Monday.

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“I am incredibly disappointed. I will not only be disappointed but furious if it turns out to be arson because it is a loss for everyone. It is a waste to take (remove) a compassionate and different approach to interim winter housing for the native population ”, Ward 2 Coun. Shawn Lewis said.

“Frankly, we don’t have a lot of time to think, to consider other locations, especially for this project that was to be led by Indigenous people for Indigenous people, and to find a culturally appropriate support space,” he said. Lewis said.

It is one of two temporary winter shelters planned for city-owned golf courses this year, as part of a $ 1.9 million plan to keep people safe during the winter months. cooler and help connect homeless Londoners to housing.

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The second refuge, intended for those who are not native, is planned for the Fanshawe golf course on the northeastern outskirts of the city. Unlike River Road, there are no public transportation routes that connect to the golf course. Both sites have been criticized for their isolation and distance from supports in the central area.

Neighbors at the closed River Road golf course, which is expected to be sold by town hall, have filed complaints against the plan with politicians.

City council is expected to make a final decision on the winter plan – which also includes 40 downtown spaces for people and a stabilization space for people in crisis on Hamilton Road – on November 16.

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