Location of Indigenous-led winter response to homelessness in London unknown after devastating fire

London fire truck stock image. Matthew Trevithick/Global News

Atlohsa Family Healing Services says the fire at the Indigenous-led winter shelter site is “devastating,” leaving them with many unanswered questions on the future of the site.

A fire at the former River Road Golf Course in east London on Sunday morning has been deemed suspicious by London police.

The fire caused roughly $1 million in damage to the clubhouse, which was set to be a part of the city’s winter response to homelessness, with River Road being used specifically to serve up to 30 Indigenous people.

Although the trailers marked for the initiative were not damaged in the fire, Atlohsa, the organization set to run the Indigenous response, said there are a lot of questions around if the site is still usable and if it’s safe to run.

“It felt not coincidental this took place two days after we publicly announced our support for this location and using it,” said Andrea Jibb, director of community planning at Atlohsa Family Healing Services.

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“We have some safety concerns, I would say, in the event this was a suspicious fire — is it safe to operate out of this location, and even if it is, we will have a bit of reminder with a large burned-out building that potentially we weren’t wanted there.”

Atlohsa Family Healing Services is a non-profit, charitable organization, focused on strengthening the community through Indigenous-led programs and services that offer holistic healing and wellness.

Jibb said they had been looking forward to operating at the golf course because it would allow them to use the land to help people reconnect with their culture and that the remoteness of the location was something that would help.

If the site at River Road is no longer viable, Jibb said they are working with the city to come up with a similar option that would have access to the land. At this time, she said they are struggling to find other options that would work.

She’s asking anyone who knows of a property that might work for the winter shelter site to reach out to Atlohsa Family Healing Services.

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Atlohsa has been continuously advocating for increased spaces for Indigenous people experiencing homelessness, as Indigenous people make up at least 29 per cent of people experiencing homelessness in London, the organization reports.

Still there remains suspicion over the source of the fire, with Atlohsa’s executive director Raymond Deleary noting that this is the second suspicious fire at an Indigenous space in the past year.

“It’s unlikely a coincidence that a piece of property that has been left untouched for at least the last year was burned down two days after Atlohsa publicly announced it as a resource to support Indigenous homelessness,” said Deleary.

—with files from Global News’ Kelly Wang and Natalie Lovie

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