OTTAWA -- The price tag to house Manitoba First Nations residents forced from their homes last year by flooding now tops $40 million.
Nearly a year after flooding in Manitoba began to force the residents from their homes, 2,255 people are still unable to return home to seven communities. About 400 people are living in hotels while the rest are staying with friends and family.
Jeff Solmundson, a spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's regional office in Manitoba, said the estimate for the costs of hotels, meals and daily allowances is about $40 million.
People living with friends and family still receive allowances from Ottawa to pay rent and food costs while they are out of their homes.
It's unclear exactly when most of the evacuees will be able to return home or what has to happen to accomplish that. Most are from homes that are now uninhabitable.
The first evacuees came from Dauphin River on March 30, 2011. Evacuations followed in Peguis, Canupawakpa, Ebb & Flow, Lake St. Martin, Little Saskatchewan, Opaskwayak Cree Nation and Pinaymootang.
Charlene Anderson means no disrespect to the hotel or people in the neighbourhood, but she's fed up with living at Canad Inns Garden City.
"It sucks," Anderson said Tuesday night. "It's time we got a house already."
The 27-year-old woman, along with her mother, Wilma, and Anderson's boyfriend, were forced from their home on Little Saskatchewan First Nation after major flooding on the reserve in April 2011. Anderson was told there is still eight feet of water in her basement.
"We're never going back there," she said.
The couple and her mother have been living at the hotel for the last two months after being "bounced around" a few times, she said.
And there seems to be no end in sight.
"I've almost given up already. We don't know anything about our future," Anderson said. "No one's had any meetings with us."
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada could not say Tuesday exactly what plans are in the works to get everyone into permanent homes.
Later this week, the first five families from Lake St. Martin could be moving voluntarily into modular homes the province bought and erected near Gypsumville. The location is a temporary solution to get families out of hotels in Winnipeg.
The floods destroyed most of the homes on the reserve and the community needs a new location on which to rebuild.
A permanent solution to Lake St. Martin's problems is at least a year away, estimates the band's lawyer, Norman Boudreau. He said the community is in discussions with Ottawa and the province on a permanent solution to its housing problems. But, he added, it won't happen overnight.
Solmundson said there is nothing to report on those negotiations, and any resolution "could take a while."
Boudreau said he hoped the "emergency" situation can be resolved within a year. He said it's incumbent on both levels of government to help find a solution as soon as possible.
"It's a complex issue, for sure," he said.
Living in the city is difficult for the evacuees, Boudreau said. "The entire environment in Winnipeg is very different for them and poses a number of challenges. They would rather live in their own community," he said.
There are 120 modular homes purchased for the Gypsumville site and 53 families have been approved to move there.
Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson said part of the problem is there has never been a real plan to address the long-standing flood issues that have affected most of these reserves for years. When the flood waters came last year, still nobody was prepared.
"I wish I could say we've done a great job with this," said Robinson. "We're farting around with people's lives."
Federal Liberal aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett said "it's ridiculous" so many people are still in temporary housing at this point.
"There doesn't seem to be a plan," she said.
Bennett said in the meantime, families are living in conditions that aren't ideal and taxpayers are footing the bill.
"It's not exactly a cost-effective solution."
-- with file from Jason Bell
FIRST Nations evacuees, by community, as of Feb. 9, 2012:
Dauphin River 246
Ebb & Flow 83
Lake St. Martin 1,157
Little Saskatchewan 414
Number living in hotels:
Number living with friends and/or family:
-- source: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada