In 1993 a small domestic violence program began responding to disparities that Indigenous people, specifically women and children, faced in Duluth. The American Indian Community Housing Organization was founded in a parking lot outside a social service agency by a group of women talking about the lack of resources and support available to the Indigenous community.
The organization eventually expanded into transitional, permanent supportive and scattered site housing.
“Our mission and vision is to honor the resiliency of Native American people, and we do that by strengthening communities and centering our Indigenous values in all of our work,” said Daryl Olson, AICHO’s director of programming. “Every Native American deserves to live in a nonviolent and nonthreatening environment and has the right to be treated with dignity and respect.”
The key to that is ensuring they have access to a home, food, health care and support services. AICHO makes sure to properly communicate with the Indigenous community to achieve this.
“We’ve tried to be very strategic in the development of our programming, and we’re always looking to our community to direct us on what are the needs now?”
One of the persisting issues for the Native American community in Duluth is finding housing. Olson believes that without providing adequate shelter, other needs can’t be fulfilled.
“You can’t look at addressing somebody’s mental health or their chemical health or their spiritual well-being if you can’t meet their basic needs.”
AICHO is currently runs a 10-bed domestic violence shelter called Dabinoo’Igan. However, it is only able to serve five households at a time due to lack of space and COVID-19.
But the housing program is not only for domestic violence victims. These shelters are available to parents who do not have custody of their children while they work on their sobriety, mental health or increasing their income. When they are ready, they safely reunite with their children.
“Seeing families that have come from a lot of trauma and have been faced with an array of barriers … and move forward in a positive, good way in their lives, it’s been life changing.”
However, the housing program cannot move forward without assured land.
“It has been frustrating. We’ve been trying to lease a parcel of land in their community so that we could expand our programming. We also have been in numerous conversations about purchasing land from vacant lots or collaborating with agencies that we know of but aren’t utilizing the space,” Olson said.
The lack of support from the city and county is also a reason for the slow progress in developing additional affordable housing.
In spite of the frustration, in five years Olson expects AICHO to expand its domestic violence shelters in hopes of serving more victims and their children. They wish to secure either more land or an undeveloped building in order to provide affordable housing for the community.