Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Juanita Nina Valdez, left, and Theresa Gibbons, seen here on Dec. 17, 2020, are residents at the Spaken House, a culturally supportive housing project in Victoria.

CHAD HIPOLITO/GM

For a few nights after she moved into a Victoria housing complex this past August, Theresa Gibbons slept with her door open, unaccustomed to having space to herself.

Ms. Gibbons, 53, has been homeless for much of the past decade, during which she stayed in “pretty much every shelter in Victoria.”

“When you get into shelter mode, it’s really hard to get out of that mindset,” Ms. Gibbons said in a recent telephone interview from Spa’qun House, a modular housing project for Indigenous women who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Story continues below advertisement

“So the door was a big deal – some of the people who moved in were like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve got my own bathroom, I’ve got a door I can close.’

“But living with 60 to 70 people for six or seven years, it can be a little unnerving with it being quiet.”

Adjusting to the quiet, and a door she can close, is part of a bigger journey for Ms. Gibbons – and part of an overall approach to health and housing at Spa’qun House.

Billed as the first of its kind in B.C., the project provides culturally supportive housing. The model includes elements typical of B.C.s existing supportive housing projects – meals, counselling and round-the-clock staffing. But it also features cultural elements such as access to traditional foods, land-based healing programs and regular visits from elders.

The province put up $3.8-million to build and launch the project, which opened in August and is run by the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness Society (ACEH), with support from Vancouver-based Atira Women’s Resource Society.

Although relatively small, with 21 units, it has a big ambition: to showcase a housing model that gets people off the street but also provides a sense of identity and, through that, a route to healthier lives.

The Spa’qun House has 21 units.

CHAD HIPOLITO/GM

Spa’qun House grew out of an earlier, three-year project involving ACEH and several agencies that focused on a “priority one” group. These were people with high needs, including mental-health and addiction issues, who had been banned from Victoria housing or shelter services for disruptive behaviour, including violence. There were 74 people in the pilot project, 20 of whom were Indigenous.

Story continues below advertisement

The project highlighted gaps when it came to Indigenous housing needs, particularly those of women fleeing violence, ACEH director Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi said.

“I, like many people, probably drove through our city and assumed that our Indigenous people are being taken care of,” Ms. Hunt-Jinnouchi said. “I have since come to learn that the specific group or target population that we are now focused on is almost doubly marginalized, because Indigenous housing has very much focused on affordable or family and low-income housing.

“That does not open the doors up to any of the people we are working with.”

That group includes people who live with chronic medical issues, have a history in the criminal-justice system and may have been dependent on the shelter system for years, even decades. A referral process involving provincial housing agency B.C. Housing and various housing providers came up with 95 candidates for spots at Spa’qun House. Twenty-one were selected.

Ms. Gibbons said she became homeless after she couldn’t afford to pay her rent and was evicted. Health problems and the deaths of several close relatives over a short period compounded her problems. She had back surgery for spinal stenosis in February.

Of Cree descent, she said she was not raised with strong cultural ties and is currently trying to learn more about her heritage.

Story continues below advertisement

“They [Spa’qun House] are bringing in traditional things and I’m grateful for that. Because it’s the start of a learning point for me, for possibly [learning about] my background.”

Ms. Gibbons said she is focusing on regaining her mobility and hopes to return to work with SOLID, a Victoria drug users’ group with whom she was a peer counsellor before her operation.

ACEH designed Spa’qun House with an eye to developing a “decolonized harm-reduction framework.”

As Ms. Hunt-Jinnouchi describes it, that framework – still evolving – would incorporate culture, language and healing and, ideally, a path toward recovery.

“The housing is just the first step … their Indigenous self, their cultural self, needs to be ignited and nurtured and supported,” she said, adding that culturally supportive housing, in and of itself, is not enough.

“If we do not provide pathways to healing and recovery … we are just kind of prolonging the inevitable in a warm setting. And that is not enough. It should not be enough in society, whether you’re Indigenous or non-Indigenous.”

Story continues below advertisement

Still in its infancy, Spa’qun House has had to pull back on programming and visitors because of COVID-19. But the residents – referred to as family members – are adjusting, getting used to doors that close and beds they can return to each night.

Juanita Valdez, who grew up in Victoria and said she has lived outside and in shelters for the past few years, said she appreciates being able to keep pets – she has two birds – and is becoming accustomed to living inside and having a regular routine. Ms. Valdez, 34, describes herself as Coast Salish.

Asked what she hopes for a year from now, she pauses for a long moment and then says she is taking things day by day.

“It’s been pretty successful, coming back to life,” said Ms. Valdez, who likened years of homelessness and heavy drug use to sleepwalking or waking nightmares because sometimes she would be awake for days at a time.

“It’s that kick I was looking for – so I am glad I was awakened, and now I am living my days from morning to night.”

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies