Twenty Successes -- A First in the Supportive Housing Movement: AISHI Brings Supportive Housing to Reservations

Homelessness has been a significant and growing problem among American Indians, both on tribal lands and in urban centers. In total about 90,000 American Indians are homeless or under-housed, representing approximately eight percent of the total U.S. homeless population. In response to this over representation and the significant need for additional housing on reservations, CSH and Enterprise Community Partners joined with American Indian tribes, nonprofits and community development corporations to form the American Indian Supportive Housing Initiative (AISHI). The goal of AISHI was, and continues to be, developing housing that blends tribal leadership, knowledge and traditional service approaches with tested supportive housing program models that work in American Indian communities.

One thing we set out to do is to help end homelessness on tribal lands by bringing supportive housing to reservations, a first in the supportive housing movement. A key step was working towards cultural competency and a deeper understanding of the unique strengths of the American Indian culture, traditions and values, in addition to tribal sovereignty, governance structures and service delivery structures of tribes. With the help of dedicated individuals in tribal leadership and American Indian communities, AISHI was able to combine the technical assistance needed with new access to non-tribal funding sources to create supportive housing that remains sensitive to the unique attributes of each American Indian community where supportive housing operates and exists.

The shared goal of developing the first on-reservation supportive housing development was realized  when Dream Catcher Homes opened in 2007 on the White Earth Reservation in Ogema, Minnesota, providing 20 units of supportive housing for families with services emphasizing children and family reunification including case management and counseling.

Through the dedication of our AISHI Leadership Council, we have forged genuine partnerships with many tribal leaders, including the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who recently opened twenty-four units of supportive housing for families and individuals on their reservation. Leadership Council member, Chairwoman Karen Diver, who recently joined the CSH Board of Directors, has been integral to the success of AISHI. The model of supportive housing is a welcome addition to the Fond du Lac Band’s services. It fills a unique need in our community, and promotes our goal of not just providing a hand out, but a hand up towards self-sufficiency.

The success of AISHI continues to grow. Since the opening of Dream Catcher homes, more than 200 units of supportive housing specifically for American Indian populations have been added to the Minnesota pipeline. The initiative has also been expanding into many other parts of the country. AISHI recently delivered a Supportive Housing Academy in the Dakotas and worked with the Turtle Mountain Band of North Dakota, which is currently developing a 24 unit supportive housing project on their reservation. We are proud of the impact we have had and the measurable results of our partnerships through AISHI. As CSH enters its third decade, innovative work such as this is sure to reinforce our position as a leader in the supportive housing movement.

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