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Indigenous Friendship Centre on schedule to open Suswin Village

·3 min read

The Suswin Village project is rising on the corner of Cassells St. and 5th Ave. West, directly across the street from North Bay’s Indigenous Friendship Centre (NBIFC).

Kathy Fortin, the executive director of the NBIFC, explained that “right now we’re still on schedule,” with construction, “and it’s coming up pretty well.”

Thankfully, much of the preliminary work was completed before Covid began waving over the world, and the pandemic did not slow the project.

The goal of an April 2022 completion remains in sight, with the “first intake” of residents occurring next July, Fortin explained.

She mentioned that Suswin is the Ojibway word for nest, and the new building will provide a safe place to call home for some of the region’s homeless.

The Suswin program began in 2017 after the NBIFC received a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and since founding, has worked with 297 people—many with families—requesting housing support.

Suswin workers were able to assist 188 people to secure housing, whereas “the remainder were still being supported,” by the program, or “moved away or lost contact with the program,” the centre explained in a release.

Suswin Village is a large step forward in the program’s mission to help people secure stable housing, and Fortin mentioned the building has been in the works for over 10 years.

Funding was finally secured for the $7.2 million project and ground broke this past April.

The three-story building, designed by North Bay’s Larocque Elder Architects, will have room for 30 residents. Each living space will contain a bedroom and a bathroom. A common kitchen is located on the main floor, a space that will also be used to teach cooking skills.

Along with the kitchen, the main floor will house administration offices, “a beautiful common area,” and a computer room that will also be used for teaching and providing access to resources.

The remaining two stories will be allocated for living space, and an elevator connects them.

The building is heated by geothermal “and is the first vertical loop geothermal building projects within the urban area of North Bay,” Fortin said, adding that a few banks of solar panels will also be installed to reduce operating costs.

Outside there will be parking for about eight cars, Fortin said, and an area to gather around a fire pit. The entire outdoor area will be enclosed with a wrought iron fence.

The building will provide transitional housing for those needing a safe, comfortable place while working toward a more permanent home. Residents can live there for up to four years, Fortin said, but most will transition through faster than that.

The new building, coupled with the Friendship Centre across the street, provides “a one-stop-shop,” said Fortin, “providing the tools for people to go out and be able to live in the community.”

Indeed, with over 30 programs available at the Centre, those willing can learn skills that will benefit many aspects of their lives.

Education and work programs are available, and more common life skills are taught as well, including cooking, budgeting, and other services.

Moreover, the centre will guide people in need to appropriate resources to help with addiction and mental health.

Overall, Suswin and the NBIFC are “building skills” to allow people “to be able to live out on their own.”

Fortin, although thrilled that the “dream” of Suswin Village is materializing before her eyes, understands that the problem of homelessness will persist after the village’s doors open.

According to the 2016 census quoted by the centre on their website, 14 per cent of residents in the Nipissing district are Indigenous. In 2018, the centre noted that of the homeless population in the district, approximately 44 per cent are Indigenous.

“As soon as we put the word out that we’re taking applications it won’t take long to fill,” she said, noting that these rooms, while not eradicating homelessness in the city, will make a world of difference for those thirty people moving in.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca

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