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This article was published 25/10/2017 (1335 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
From the time the first log was lit at dawn, a couple dozen people stopped by a sacred fire Tuesday on their way to the fifth-annual National Conference on Ending Homelessness.
Each bent over a painted wooden bowl, took a pinch of tobacco and a sprig of cedar, and made an offering to the flames.
"It's a sacred fire to honour the elders, to make prayers when you offer tobacco,"said Bob French, a former homeless man from British Columbia's Nazko First Nation who is among the conference delegates and volunteer fire keepers.
The scent of smoke drifted into the RBC Convention Centre along with the aroma of sage, an aromatic accompaniment to the conference's twin themes of Indigenous homelessness in Canada and its links in the spirit of truth and reconciliation to take action that will end it.
Over 1,000 housing and homeless experts are meeting in Winnipeg over the next three days.
"In this room is the knowledge and leadership to end homelessness," said conference host Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Association to End Homelessness.
"Ask yourself, 'What's my role in reconciliation? What action will I take?'"
In Canada, 35,000 people couch surf, sleep in temporary shelters or are on the streets on any given night in Canada, delegates heard.
Much of the focus is on the Indigenous face of homelessness in Canada, particularly on the Prairies. Across Canada, for instance, 37 per cent of people without homes are Indigenous, a number that leaps to 90 per cent in downtown cores of cities such as Winnipeg, according to statistics speakers referenced Wednesday.
Delegates include policy and decision makers from community agencies who craft social-service strategies and programs to representatives from various levels of government.
Others are front-line workers who deal daily with people on the street. A few are homeless themselves.
"As a nation we have lost our way," Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman told delegates. "There is no more painful example of that than the (legacy) of residential schools. And in a country as wealthy as Canada, it is a shame and an embarrassment that we have so many people without a place to rest their heads tonight."
Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas applauded the conference's sponsorship of the CEO sleepout, a key event where business leaders will spend a night outside the convention centre Thursday to demonstrate their civic commitment, but he reminded the conference that humanity is key to their efforts.
"The homeless don't get coffee and soup handed out to them. People aren't there to cheer them on to get them through the night. And they certainly don't get respect from the people walking by them," he said.
"We are supposed to be living in a First World country, but looking at our friends and relatives on the the street shows we have a long way to go. It's up to each and every one of us to treat each other with respect."
Manitoba Minister of Families Scott Fielding emphasized the province's recent announcement of forthcoming reforms to the child-welfare system, and noted that 60 per cent of youth on the streets are kids who have aged out of state care.
"Places like Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson, as the grand chief indicated... show us that Indigenous people represent the majority of the homeless. The province's housing strategy targets youth and those from rural (areas) moving to urban centres as priorities," Fielding said.
Living rough takes an enormous personal toll, with the average life expectancy of a homeless person in Canada is 59 years. In the latest Statistics Canada data from 2012, the average life expectancy in Canada is 79 years for males and 83 years for females.
"While we are here, we are going to lose people, people are dying," said Louis Sorin, president and CEO of End Homelessness Winnipeg.
"Think about that."