The four totem poles in front of Lu’ma Native Housing Society’s latest project on Nanaimo Street mark what the building’s proponents have long visualized as a long-term home for aboriginal children in care.
The totem poles, carved by Nisga’a artist Mike Dangeli, were officially unveiled today (October 25) during a ceremony at the development near South Grandview Highway. The facility consists of 24 new units intended to house aboriginal foster families, youth transitioning out of care, and low-income families.
Officials announced that the facility will be named the Dave Pranteau Aboriginal Children’s Village, in recognition of the contributions of the former board member of the Lu’ma Native Housing Society.
Marjorie White, the vice president of the society, said there is a “great need” for housing like the units at the aboriginal children’s village.
“Children who are in care just have this feeling…they don’t belong anywhere, so we want to, through this building, be able to get them that feeling of security and well-being and have them grow up in a safe environment,” she said in an interview.
Patrick Stewart, the architect for the development, said that he would have benefitted from something like the aboriginal children’s village when he was in the foster care system as a child.
“I went to eight different schools in 12 years, and you just don’t grow roots that way,” he said in an interview.
He noted that the project has been based on the concept that the units would be allocated to the children.
“If the family breaks down, traditionally, the foster kids were always yanked out, and in this building, that’s not going to be the case,” he said. “They stay in the unit, so they get to live here—this becomes their community, and it gives them that stability, right up until they turn adults, which is great.”
The building consists of a mix of units, including four-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments. It also includes studio apartments used as transition units for children who “age out” of the foster-care system.
“We know that when they reach their age to move on, that we will be in a position to help them transition in a more comfortable way, and not just say ‘well, you’re 17 or 18, now it’s time for you to go’,” said White.
Lu’ma Native Housing Society provided more than half of the capital costs of the building. Additional funding for the project came from the Government of Canada, the B.C. government and the City of Vancouver, including a $5.2 million contribution from the province.
Stewart said the design incorporated some cultural aspects, such as heavy timber on the facades, and the totem poles.
“It’s a colourful building, and that was very important,” he added. “People that I’ve worked with over the years have been wanting to have buildings that don’t have white in it, because white reminded them of residential schools, and they wanted something that wasn’t indicative of that…so the units are very colourful and very open.”
White noted the new building adds to the 30 units that the organization currently operates in the city.
“For the general public, this may sound like a lot of units, but for Lu’ma Native Housing, it isn’t enough,” she told media and guests assembled at today’s event. “We continue to have a wait list of 4,500 people…and the demand for affordable housing is never-ending.”
Dave Pranteau, who died last year, served on the society’s board of directors for a few years, and worked closely with the organization in establishing the children’s village.
“Dave was especially passionate in the area of children and family services, and he worked tirelessly in the areas of housing, employment and training, homelessness, HIV and AIDS, and improving the social and economic conditions of aboriginal peoples,” said White.
“Dave was well known to many of us here in Vancouver and elsewhere in British Columbia for his leadership, teachings and compassion.”
Tenants began moving in to the development in September 2012 and the housing portion of the project is now fully occupied, according to B.C. Housing.
The building will also feature community gathering space for youth cultural activities, and counselling and support for families is available on site.