Grand opening of Tsi Niwakenonhsote provides ‘a place to call home’

Tipi Moza (Iron Homes) held an exciting afternoon of fun and activities on Tuesday, Jun. 21, 2022, to celebrate the grand opening of Tsi Niwakenonhsote [Gee nee-wa-gay-new-so-day]: “A place to call home.” The celebration took place in City Park, adjacent to the new location at 113 Lower Union Street in Kingston.

The grand opening of Tsi Niwakenonhsote was appropriately celebrated on National Indigenous Peoples Day with singing, drumming, dancing, kids’ activities, and traditional Indigenous refreshments, as well as tours of the facility, which provides transitional housing to vulnerable Indigenous people who have experienced homelessness on the streets of Kingston.

Mitch, front right, and two other residents of the new transitional home, Tsi Niwakenonhsote [Gee nee-wa-gay-new-so-day] “A place to call home,” provide a warm greeting to their home. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

Tipi Moza Executive Director Winnie Peters explained that, in a recent survey by the United Way, almost one-third of Kingston’s unhoused population identified as Indigenous, while only about 3.4 per cent of Kingston’s population identifies as Indigenous. “So that’s a pretty staggering number,” she reflected.

In partnership with the City of Kingston, “who have been an amazing support” according to Peters, Tipi Moza has been working toward this achievement for over 18 months, Peters said. “We’ve been planning, and… we took possession of the building in January. I think we had our first three residents [by] the end of February.”

The building has the capacity to house 19 unhoused Indigenous community members and is currently home to 18, with one room on the women’s floor still available. “It’s a very simple application process,” said Peters. “No documentation is required because many homeless folks don’t have anything. It alleviates a lot of stress from them because… when you’re homeless, you have to worry about where you’re sleeping, where you’re eating, and that that’s a full-time job… When they move in, it takes away [that stress] and they can focus on the healing.”

“Many of our residents still need extra support with treatments for addictions and mental health… Nobody gets on the street without some sort of trauma and/or addictions, right?” said support worker Lynda Gerow. “So, we are just getting them back into a routine of what you need to do to live in your own place.” 

The residence houses a men’s floor on the ground floor and a women’s floor above, which is not accessible to the men. The rooms have a private bathroom and other amenities like mini-fridges, and there is a fully stocked communal kitchen. Daily chores are shared by the residents and rotate each week. There are also activities provided for residents, such as beading, which is taught by Gerow.

Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson asks a question of Lynda Gerow while on a tour of the transitional home. Earlier, the mayor exchanged gifts with the members of Tipi Moza in a show of thanks and solidarity. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.
MPP Ted Hsu congratulated Tipi Moza on their achievement and shared a laugh with Robert Wittwage, Tipi Moza communications officer. MP Mark Gerretsen sent his best wishes and a message of support from Ottawa. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

Residents of Tsi Niwakenonhsote can stay for up to four years, much longer than the typical one-year limits at many other transitional housing projects. Gerow explained that the longer stay allows people who are trying to start a new chapter in their lives more time to make lasting change. Their tenancy is reviewed yearly.

Mitch, a resident of Tsi Niwakenonhsote, gave a greeting and blessings during the opening ceremonies. He told the story of his grandmother, who was born in the woods north of Ardoch and lived to be 103. His mother is now a spry 93-year-old who still visits young people on the streets of Kingston, he said.

“My grandmother taught me a lot; my mom taught me a lot; so I give thanks for them. Every day, I give thanks to the Creator for allowing me to walk on this earth… The Creator gives us many things to do… keeps us going, gives us the ability to decide what we’re going to do today and who [we’re] going to help. Today, I woke up and said, ‘I’m gonna do the prayer, and I’m gonna help people.’ That was my goal today: just to do that,” he shared.

“I look over at that house we’re talking about today. I’m very grateful for that building over there… because if it wasn’t there, I don’t know: I’d be probably either bugging my mom on a couch, or walking the streets, one of the two. It’s very special workers there; they work really hard for us in that home.”

“A home: that’s what it is,” he remarked. “The other day, there was a person not being very nice, and three of us stood up, we said, ‘This is our home, so you need to stop.’ And he realized that he was in the wrong, and he left. So, that was really good. Because that’s what it is. It’s our home. It’s really special.”

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