First Nations youth will soon have 'A Place of Belonging' as ground breaks on new housing project

Almost a year after provincial funding was announced, the Lii Michif Otipemisiwak Family and Community Services' (LMO) 31-unit housing project broke ground today (May 23) on the Kamloops North Shore.

The future building, located at 975 Singh St., will house a mixture of First Nations elders and Indigenous youth who are aging out of the child welfare system. Called "Kikékyelc: A Place of Belonging," the name in Secwepemctsin means "to cover young protectively." 

"It's been completely our vision since the moment we even discussed the idea to today," Colleen Lucier, executive director of the LMO. "We've been intimately involved with every detail of this initiative and it's happening because of what our people have witnessed for far too long for our youth that age out of care. We wanted to stop that pattern and break that cycle."

Over the years Lucier has seen many Indigenous youth age out of the child welfare system at 19 with no family or cultural connections, and in many cases, the results aren't good. Without the skills and supports needed to live independently, they can end up on the streets or in jail. 

"We have to stop that. It begins by preventing children from coming into care to begin with," says Lucier. "That's our goal. But if they are in care, we want them with their families. If they happen to age out of care, we want them to age out still supported until they're ready to be on their own."

Not everyone who leaves the child welfare system is doomed. 

Cody Lecas-Dumas, a volunteer with LMO who came up through the system, had an apartment of his own in Chilliwack on an independent living agreement. While his experience was enjoyable, he understands others will need more support systems and they can find that here.

"For me, it felt like that independence kind of helped, because you learn how to be independent in the world and you need that," he says. "But for some people, they come from different backgrounds — I was fortunate enough to be raised by a nice family and it wasn't until I was a little older that I ran into some troubles — so I could imagine for people who never had that upbringing and knew how a normal home functions, it might be a little harder for them to get acclimated to living independently. So maybe some of the supports here can help them get to know how to live on their own and how to live a normal life."

With an elder's council that already works with the LMO youth, Lucier says the idea of having elders live in this youth housing was just a "natural extension." She says currently, the plan is for four to six elders to live in Kikékyelc, along with the youth tenants (aged 16 to 27).

Though some tenants are already lined up and are picking their rooms based off sketches, the LMO will be accepting referrals from anywhere in the province as long as that Indigenous youth had some connection to the child welfare system.

"It's going to provide youth with a meaningful place to set down their roots and it's going to allow elders to pass on wisdom, to provide guidance and provide meaning to their lives as they age with dignity and with grace," says Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. "Everyone will have a sense of belonging."

The provincial government provided $4.7 million for the housing project, while the City of Kamloops leased the land (worth $420,000) to B.C. Housing for a 60-year term.

Speakers did take a few kindhearted shots at the city throughout the morning event, as the building permit for Kikékyelc hasn't been approved yet. So the actual groundbreaking and beginning of construction will likely get underway next week. 

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