Former northern Ontario chief to develop housing centres to 'create a sense of security' for evacuees

The former chief of Kashechewan First Nation is using his experience as an evacuee to help "create a sense of security"  for others who are forced to leave their community during forest fires or other emergency situations.

Derek Stephen said the housing centres will be located in Timmins and Thunder Bay

Christina Jung · CBC News · Posted: Jun 20, 2019 7:30 AM ET | Last Updated: an hour ago 
President of Cree-Ative Structures and former chief of Kasheschewan First Nation, Derek Stephen, said he wanted to "create a sense of security" for evacuees who are forced to leave their homes during an emergency situations. This is one of the proposed permanent housing centres where families can stay together. (Cree-Ative Structures / submitted)

The former chief of Kashechewan First Nation is using his experience as an evacuee to help "create a sense of security"  for others who are forced to leave their community during forest fires or other emergency situations.

Derek Stephen said he got tired of being displaced throughout the province when he and his family were forced to leave their community every year, during the spring flood and is in the process of developing a pair of permanent housing centres in Timmins and Thunder Bay.

"It's always been a personal experience for me since I was a young kid back in 85 when I first got evacuated from my community and also in 76," Stephen explained. "One thing I looked at is all the stress that happens when all families are displaced like grandparents and great-grandparents don't know where their grand-kids end up ... because they are all over Ontario."

Through his company, CREE-Ative Structures, Stephen said he has looked into developing a solution for evacuees in northern Ontario, for the past several years.

 

"It's an emergency centre where we would be able to accommodate emergencies like for evacuation on the annual spring flood, or forest fires or infrastructure failures in the community," Stephen explained, adding that he chose Timmins and Thunder Bay as the two locations because of its closeness to a hospital and other Indigenous services. 

Located in Timmins and Thunder Bay, Ont., Stephen said each unit will include a laundry facility, living room and kitchen so families can feel at home while being away from their community. (Cree-Ative Structures / Submitted)

Each location is expected to have about 120 to 130 units, including a kitchen, a living room and one to four bedrooms. Stephen said the emergency centres will also have a classroom so students don't have to miss out on any schooling while being away from their community.

"We're in the final stages of everything and finalizing funding," he continued. "We're very close in closing out in funding, so I'm hoping before next spring, we should have everything in place."

He said he's currently looking at a property on Golf Links Road and Central Avenue as well as another one in the Port Arthur area.

"It will give them their own space ... rather than being cramped up in a hotel room. They don't have to go into a lobby to find a sitting area. They'll have their own living room, they'll have their own laundry facility ... and also a kitchenette to cook their own meals so they can be comfortable," Stephen said.

Stephen said his goal is to run the two facilities for about five to seven years and then "eventually have First Nation take over ownership of it."