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Atlohsa calls for urgent action to address Indigenous homelessness after River Road arson arrest

A day after London, Ont., police announced an arson charge against a City of London employee in connection with the Nov. 7 fire at the former River Road golf course clubhouse, Atlohsa Family Healing Services is calling for immediate investments from the city into Indigenous spaces for people experiencing homelessness.

Atlohsa is also calling for “investment and active participation into Indigenous-led professional development on anti-Indigenous racism and Indigenous homelessness.”

Read more:
City of London employee arrested in connection with River Road Golf Course fire

The fire, which caused roughly $1 million in damages, occurred just days after it was announced that River Road would serve up to 30 Indigenous people experiencing homelessness this winter as part of the city’s Winter Response Plan.

While the trailers marked for the initiative were not damaged in the fire, it is not yet clear if the site itself remains a viable option for the program.

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On Monday, London police reported that Michael Peter Belanger, 54, has been charged with one count of arson causing damage to property. The City of London confirmed that Belanger is a supervisor on the city’s fleet team and that he has been suspended with pay, pending further investigation. The charge against him has not been proven in court. Belanger’s next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 7.

Read more:
Damage in suspicious blaze at River Road Golf Course pegged at $1M, police say

In a statement, Atlohsa said Tuesday that it is “saddened and disheartened that this act of violence has taken place at the site of a proposed Indigenous-led winter response for homelessness. As Indigenous people, we are unfortunately all too familiar with acts of violence towards us. The message behind this act of violence is clear: Indigenous people were not wanted at this site.”

Executive director Raymond Deleary said, “through the processes of colonization, Indigenous people have experienced loss of land and displacement again and again.”

“When will enough be enough? We need systemic change at a much deeper level.”

While Atlohsa noted that the City of London Housing Stability Services department “has been working quickly and creatively with Atlohsa” towards implementing an Indigenous-led winter response, “this is not enough to stop the violence.”

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“There is an urgent need for land to be returned back to the hands of Indigenous peoples,” Atlohsa said, calling for immediate investments from the city into Indigenous spaces for people experiencing homelessness as well as “investment and active participation into Indigenous-led professional development on anti-Indigenous racism and Indigenous homelessness.”

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Kevin Dickins, deputy city manager, social and health development, said in a statement to Global News that the city shares “in the sense of urgency to address Indigenous homelessness in this community” and that work is underway to try to secure land “to create Indigenous spaces for people experiencing homelessness.”

“Council has endorsed the Giwetashkad Indigenous Homelessness Strategic Plan in principle, and with that endorsement, staff have since been actively advocating the Province for either a source of funding or land,” Dickins said.

“We have also been advocating for London to be designated an Indigenous community, which opens additional supports through the Reaching Home Program. And we’re working closely with Atlohsa to identify an option to provide an Indigenous-led temporary winter shelter site.”

In regards to requests to invest in and actively participate in Indigenous-led professional development on anti-Indigenous racism and Indigenous homelessness, Dickins told Global News that the city has “great interest in enhancing our professional development programs by working with Atlohsa and other local Indigenous-led organizations.”

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© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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