Temporary Indigenous housing trailer residents at risk of homelessness again as provincial funding ends

A temporary winter housing project is closing down on May 1 and despite promises from the operator that everyone will be housed, some residents are warning that they’re about to be evicted back onto the streets and into homelessness. 

Tina Durocher ended up on the streets of Edmonton after fleeing an abusive relationship in Whitecourt — a small town less than 200 km northwest of Alberta’s capital — four years ago. 

“I had a small window of opportunity to get away from it,” she told the Progress Report. “I packed what I could into a bag, my mom picked me up and she brought me out here.” 

In January, Durocher, who is Métis, finally found a temporary solution to her homelessness: NiGiNan Housing Ventures, an Indigenous-led non-profit that provides long-term and short-term housing for people experiencing homelessness, as well as wraparound services to help them stay housed. 

She moved into a room in a large trailer in the parking lot of the non-profit’s Pimatisiwin location at the old Sands Hotel, where she’s been able to stay while working to get back on her feet. 

But she’s at risk of becoming homeless again as provincial funding for the trailer she’s been staying at for the past four months dries up. And she’s not the only one. 

Tina Durocher outside of the NiGiNan Housing Ventures temporary winter trailers setup in the parking lot of the Sands Hotel at Fort Road and Yellowhead Trail.

Janet Bourk, a 69-year-old woman with stomach cancer, moved into the temporary shelter only a few weeks ago. She told the Progress Report that she learned that she was getting uprooted again about a week after moving in. 

“It feels like I’m right back to where I started — being homeless. We’re basically killing time here until the end of the month and we'll be back on the streets looking for a place to stay,” said Bourk. 

“That little glimmer of hope there just flies away. We are being treated so unfairly … Where are we going to find housing on such short notice?” 

Trailers intended to get residents into permanent housing

On January 8, as Edmonton police and the city were nearing the end of their latest homeless encampment sweep, the province announced it was adding 150 temporary shelter spaces for Indigenous people in northeast Edmonton to much media fanfare. 

While Indigenous people compose just five per cent of Edmonton’s population, they make up anywhere from 55 to 65 per cent of its unhoused population

The government funding included $3 million to NiGiNan to operate “up to 100 emergency shelter spaces” at the Pimatisiwin site, alongside $2.3 million for Enoch Cree Nation to open 100 shelter spaces.

Since September 2023, NiGiNan has offered 34 units of temporary housing in the hotel’s former tavern. In December, the Pimatisiwin site opened 54 permanent housing spaces inside the former hotel for Indigenous people with complex needs, in addition to 49 spaces of temporary housing in a large trailer in the parking lot. 

The purpose of the temporary housing was always to get people into permanent housing, whether inside the former hotel or elsewhere, with on-site staff helping residents obtain identification, income and health-care assistance, in addition to serving them three meals a day. 

“This is a gateway to getting a home, if they come here and they work with us and we can get all the stuff done… We will find them a home, that is what we do,” NiGiNan CEO Keri Cardinal told Global News in January. 

The trailer was intended to be a more welcoming space than the currently operating shelters, which many unhoused people feel unsafe accessing. Unlike shelters, residents aren’t kicked out every morning. 

"If they want to sleep all day, they can sleep all day, because they've been out in the cold for days. We provide three meals a day, all the time. And also people can continue to stay here as long as needed until we can get them housed somewhere else so they don't end up back in encampments," Cardinal said in an interview with CTV News

The same January 8 CTV article notes in passing that “NiGiNan has permits to open the parking lot spaces until the spring.”

Cardinal confirmed to The Progress Report that funding for the temporary trailer housing ends on April 30, as it “was only funded for the winter.” 

“The camp project is ending at the end of April and the camp will be moved off the property in May (firm date tbd) and so our team has been working tirelessly to ensure everyone in the camp has a place to live and ensure no one is returned to the street or being evicted,” she wrote, declining to answer how many people are at risk of eviction. 

“Our staff have been asked to never use the word evicted as we are working very hard to ensure every single person is transferred to another location. Some are being moved to other Niginan housing sites while others have found housing somewhere else.”

Cardinal said she’s “fully confident” that everyone who lived in the temporary shelter will have housing “by the end of this week and the beginning of next.” 

Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services of Alberta Jason Nixon’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

Tina Durocher inside her unit at the NiGiNan Housing Ventures temporary trailers setup in the parking lot of the Sands Hotel at Fort Road and Yellowhead Trail.

Where will the remaining residents go? 

Durocher, whose twin brother obtained housing in the former hotel building, said her experience at the Pimatisiwin trailer has been positive since she “got into the swing of things” and got a sense of the range of the services offered to residents, but she fears that all her work to find permanent housing will be for naught. 

These include providing clothing for residents, taking them to the food bank and helping them get onto AISH if they’re unable to work. In order to move into the permanent housing in the former hotel, residents need to be on AISH, which Durocher has been in the process of applying for. 

A majority of the people who stayed in the trailers have obtained more permanent housing. When the Report last spoke to Durocher on April 26, she estimated there were about 15 people who risked displacement from the trailers. 

“We're left in a panic to figure out what the heck to do. With all the progress that we've made so far, now we're just going to be cut off and thrown out onto the street again. It just kind of makes it all of this pointless and useless,” Durocher said. 

She added that she doesn’t know what will happen come May 1. Her monthly $650 Alberta Works cheque is “nowhere near enough” to pay for rent, let alone other necessities. 

“There's no point in me getting a place if I can't pay for my utilities and pay for my groceries,” Durocher said. 

Bourk is equally uncertain about her housing future. 

She said she’ll “either buy a tent, live by the river, find an apartment as soon as I can, or live with my son, which isn’t fair to him.” 

“I have trouble sleeping because I’m constantly worried about where I am going to go from here,” said Bourk. “Am I going to go back on the street?”

Tina Durocher walks to her unit at the NiGiNan Housing Ventures temporary trailers setup in the parking lot of the Sands Hotel at Fort Road and Yellowhead Trail.