Supported tiny home complex nears grand opening

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A tiny village in the heart of the city is slowly, but surely, readying to open its doors.

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A tiny village in the heart of the city is slowly, but surely, readying to open its doors.

A 22-unit cluster of bachelor-style transitional housing spaces named Astum Api Niikinaahk — “come and sit in our home” in Cree and Michif — has been under construction near Thunderbird House on Henry Avenue for years.

Delayed by COVID-19 impacts and rising costs, the finishing touches are underway, with a hopeful opening date of Dec. 1.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A 22-unit cluster of bachelor-style transitional housing spaces named Astum Api Niikinaahk is nearing completion, with a hopeful opening date of Dec. 1.

A small but crucial feature, the fencing, needs to be completed before anyone can become a tenant. The divider between the tiny homes and the streets around them was crucial to organizers, said project co-ordinator Melissa Stone of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre.

“You’re building tiny homes in and around this area, and it’s kind of like a hornet’s nest,” she said. “It’s lots of shelters, and folks feeling not loved and not safe and living on the streets, and that’s why it’s so important.”

There’s on-site supports waiting for those who will soon inhabit the homes: a cultural mentor, a community-managed alcohol program (run by Dr. Barry Lavallee), and nurses from the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre.

By spring, traditional medicines will be planted on the grounds, Stone said.

Staff will be in the village 24 hours to meet the needs of its tenants, many of whom will likely be Winnipeggers who work for an income but are unable to find safe and secure housing, she said.

Outreach has been underway through the past year, building connections with people staying in encampments and shelters, Stone said.

“Lots of COVID issues occurred where people became homeless,” she said. “It’s people living in shelters that want their own home but can’t afford those safe apartments.”

Astum Api Niikinaahk is minimal-barrier and rent is geared to income. Units are meant to be transitional, but time limits can be a barrier in and of themselves, Stone explained: those who come can stay as long as they need to.

Four of the 22 units are slightly larger and meant for those with mobility issues. While much of what supports are offered come through an Indigenous lens, residents don’t have to be Indigenous.

“We all are on our healing journey from our own traumas, and our own experience with being homeless or exploited, or with our family members and what has occurred to our relatives, our immediate family relatives,” Stone said.

COVID-19 delayed the opening of the homes by about a year, and rising costs connected to the pandemic bumped up the original planned cost of $5.8 million by “millions,” Stone said.

The final cost can’t be shared publicly yet, Stone added, because a formal announcement by the provincial and federal government has to be made first.

Coun. Vivian Santos (Point Douglas) said her ward is desperately in need of low-barrier housing such as this Project.

“I’m just really excited. I get goosebumps when I think about it,” she said. “I’m really excited that this is going to be a different way of how we fix homelessness.”

End Homelessness Winnipeg president Jason Whitford said he sometimes feels like a “broken record” advocating for the supports a project like Astum Api Niikinaahk will provide, but is optimistic it will be successful and possibly replicated in the future.

“I think the general population is more concerned as well, if you look at the recent civic election in our city and addressing the broad issue of homelessness… I see it being a top issue in next year’s provincial election,” Whitford said.

Operating costs for Astum Api Niikinaahk will be around $900,000 a year, Stone said. It doesn’t have “sufficient dollars” to keep it going every year, as of now, but will continue to advocate for the funding needed to keep running at full capacity, she said.

“We’re starting with (this). We’re hoping to expand, because there’s just a need for so many different other tiny homes,” Stone said.

“But we’re starting with this one because it’s kind of the first… It’s just going to be a beautiful thing.”

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

Malak Abas

Malak Abas
Reporter

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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