TORONTO, Nov. 23, 2011 – The living conditions some people in the northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat are being forced to endure are deplorable and dangerous to their health according to the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO).
RNAO issued an open letter today to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty imploring them to intervene in what nurses describe as a housing crisis.
On Oct. 28, the chief of the First Nations community, Theresa Spence asked that her community of more than 2,000 people be evacuated before the onset of winter because lives, especially those of children and elders, were at risk.
The Member of Parliament for the area, Charlie Angus, visited the community and reported that five families were living in tents, while another 19 families were living in sheds without running water. He also noted that 35 families live in houses that require substantial repair and another 128 families live in houses condemned from black mold and failing infrastructure. Angus also observed overcrowding and a lack of proper indoor plumbing and electricity.
“These conditions are deplorable and life-threatening. A lack of proper water and sanitation is an invitation for disease and sickness. People need warm, safe shelter to be healthy and First Nations people deserve better,” says RNAO president David McNeil, adding that “elected leaders need to address immediately the emergency in Attawapiskat and other First Nation communities.”
Although the federal government has agreed to spend $500,000 to renovate housing in Attawapiskat, Angus says the amount is only enough to repair three or four houses.
“As a nurse and as a Canadian, I am ashamed that federal and provincial officials are pointing fingers at each other and refusing to take responsibility,” says RNAO executive director Doris Grinspun, referring to the lack of action since the state of emergency was declared at the end of October.
Grinspun says the situation in Attawapiskat and other First Nations communities is even more alarming given that National Housing Day was marked on Nov. 22 and that Canada is the only major industrialized country without a national housing program.
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario is the professional association representing registered nurses in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health-care system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve.