Ho-Chunk Nation looks into supportive housing for tribal members

By Tim Wohlers

Members of Ho-Chunk’s Tribal Coordinating Committee toured supportive housing in Duluth last month, to learn the ins and outs of operating a successful safe house. 
They visited Gimaajii, owned and operated by the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO). 
The building opened in 2012, and serves as a home to people who might not have one otherwise.  As of last month, Gimaajii had more than 80 residents who were homeless prior to their arrival. 
“The only eligibility criteria is that (residents) have to be long-term homeless,” said Executive Director Michelle LeBeau.  “Our focus is Native Americans first.  But we also do fair housing, so anybody really can apply.” 
Over the past six years, LeBeau’s program has helped hundreds of people get back onto their feet.  Some have even had to move out, because their income had risen to a level that was too high to be eligible for further rental assistance. 
The director shared her expertise with the dozen or so committee members that attended, who are in the planning stage of providing safe houses for their tribal members.   
“One of the reasons that we love to meet with other programs who are developing is because it’s a struggle to get started,” LeBeau said.  “You need to have a program that’s adaptable.” 
She spent much of the afternoon answering questions about funding, a major concern of the tribe.  For a limited budget could prevent the committee from providing all the services it needs to.  Therefore, members discussed various grants that may be available to them. 
LeBeau said her organization receives hundreds of thousands of dollars. 
“We have tons of grants,” LeBeau said.  “We get a pretty large grant from HUD, and a grant from the Department of Human Services for working with families with mental-health issues.” 
The safe houses Ho-Chunk plans to provide would be slightly different from Gimaajii, though. 
For one thing, they would only provide temporary housing to their residents – opposed to the permanent housing offered at Gimaajii. 
“We could have somebody move in and live here forever,” LeBeau said.  “And this will probably be the last place where many do live.” 
Ho-Chunk’s safe houses would provide a short-term sanctuary while individuals await treatment. 
“A lot of people are looking at transitional housing,” LeBeau said.  “But we’ve found that transitional housing does not work very well.  People need a longer stay.” 
Committee members have not decided whether counseling will be available to residents, either.  According to the executive director, though, mental-health services should be a part of any program. 
“There is a strong relationship between chemical dependency and mental-health issues,” LeBeau said.  “So if you do supportive housing, you’re going to run into that.” 
District 3 Representative Kathy DeCamp proposed that the Ho-Chunk Police Department offer drug-abuse prevention training at the houses.  Other committee members seemed to be in support of the idea. 
Executive Director of Housing Myra Price said that, whatever their safe houses look like, she is hopeful that the Ho-Chunk Nation will one day have a program as successful as Gimaajii. 
“I’m hoping that we can get to this point for our people someday,” Price said. 
The committee would hold its next meeting on March 12, at the District One Community Center in Black River Falls.