The recent homeless count in Greater Vancouver shows the continued impact of residential schools on survivors and their families, advocates and support workers say.
“There is not a single Indigenous person who is not a residential school survivor, a child of a residential school survivor or a grandchild of a residential school survivor,” said Margaret Pfoh, executive director of the Aboriginal Housing Management Association, speaking with Breaking: about the recent homeless count in the Greater Vancouver area.
“The residential schools were perhaps Canada’s most prominent and obvious acts of aggression against Indigenous peoples,” he said.
According to the Oct. 5 report released by the Homeless Services Association of British Columbia, 4,821 people said they were without permanent residence in the Greater Vancouver area in 2023.
Indigenous peoples formed 33 percent of the countalthough they represent two percent of the census population, and 64 percent of Indigenous respondents reported having lived or had generational experience in residential schools.
“I only went for a year, but it totally ruined my life,” said Charles Morrison, who has lived in Vancouver’s downtown east for the past 22 years, spending several years on the streets and battling addiction.
Morrison, who is from the Haisla Nation, said he and three of his siblings were forced to attend Port Alberni Residential School on Vancouver Island when he was six years old. After a year, he ran away and returned to his family.
“We take it home, whatever they taught us in school, and I don’t think it goes away until you seek healing,” said Morrison, who now lives with her daughter in Vancouver.
“I’m 69 years old and I still haven’t gone through the healing. It’s been a long time coming.”
The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation has described the lasting impact of Canada’s boarding schools on survivors and their families, with more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children forcibly taken and sent to boarding schools. Many were physically and sexually abused, and some never returned home.
Pfoh said survivors rarely talk about their experiences in residential schools, but they and their families feel the pain and suffering.
“The children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those people who were placed in residential schools have generated a feeling of dispossession,” he said.
“Those traumas that parents and grandparents endured, they brought home and unfortunately passed on to the children,” said James Harry Sr., whose father was a residential school survivor.
Harry Sr. is the founder and community support worker for Haisla Nation at All Nations Outreach Society, a non-profit organization supporting those struggling with addiction and homelessness in Vancouver.
“So children end up here and run away from the trauma. That’s why we established the All Nations Outreach Society,” he said.
“We want to stop that race and let him know that it’s okay to suffer.”
The homeless count was conducted between March 7 and 8 by a team of more than 1,000 volunteers who visited shelters, halfway houses, safe houses, hospitals and holding cells in Burnaby, Coquitlam, Delta, Langley, New Westminster , North Vancouver, Port Coquitlam. , Port Moody, Richmond, Ridge Meadows, Surrey, Vancouver, West Vancouver and White Rock.
The report notes that there are hidden homeless people living temporarily in unstable housing or with friends that interviewers did not find during the count.