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ATTAWAPISKAT, ONT. — Many years ago, Helen Kataquapit lived in a house. A real house that was warm, had a bedroom, a kitchen with a stove and a washroom with running water. That memory is fast fading.
The 52-year-old grandmother — who lives in a room not much larger than a walk-in closet in two trailers shared by dozens of others in one forlorn corner of Attawapiskat — knows she may never live in a house again.
“I submitted my name years ago and they kept saying there will be a house, but I am single and at the bottom of their list,” Kataquapit says with a sigh. “This place has gotten worse over the years, don’t know if anything will change it. It makes me sad, what’s happening here.”
A year ago, few could place this remote Cree reserve on Canada’s map. Then, in the middle of a desolate winter, came the news of the housing crisis and the community became the poster child of native neglect. Waves of journalists arrived on the reserve with its deplorable housing, wrote heartbreaking stories and left. So yes, this is an anniversary of sorts.
But an anniversary means nothing here. It is a place where time stands still. Nothing has changed in the past year, except for 22 new trailer-homes that some lucky families moved into. Everything else is the same: poverty and dependence, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, substandard education and health care, inadequate housing and questionable governance.
It is a long list, agrees Jackie Shisheesh.
“It does sound tough to tackle,” she says. A band councillor from 2004 to 2007, Shisheesh says there were some happy families who moved into new houses in March but it isn’t enough, not even close.
The community of 1,900 people needs more houses, she says, because too many are living in rundown homes, and in some cases, many generations are living under the same roof. “I have two families living here,” she says with a shrug. Her house is home to two daughters, a son-in-law and a granddaughter. Shisheesh is sitting at the dining table, one daughter is on Facebook on a computer in the same room, another daughter is playing with her own daughter in the living room.
But she knows she has a house, her own place. There are families in the two emergency trailers who have been living in single rooms, sharing kitchens and washrooms, for the past three years. The trailers were donated by De Beers, which runs a billion-dollar diamond mine just up the road, after a sewage backup forced people out of their houses.
It was meant as a temporary shelter but as many as 50 people still live here because they have nowhere else. Sometimes tempers are frayed. Substance abuse is rampant. Those who live here, seldom come out to chat with others, most people mind their own business.
The trailers don’t feel like home.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1308231–attawapiskat-no-end-in-sight-to-problems-of-inadequate-housing-unemployment-drug-addiction