Every person deserves to know three things about themselves. Who they are, why they are, and what their purpose in life is. At least, that is the belief of Lutherwood’s Indigenous Housing Specialist Clarence Cachagee.
“I walk in both worlds. I am half settler and half Cree. I’ve always wanted to have a role serving the indigenous population, and for a long time such a role was never available,” said Clarence. So, when he saw the position at Lutherwood eight months ago, he jumped at the chance.
Growing up in the foster system, and more recently battling addiction and homelessness here in Waterloo Region, Clarence is passionate about taking what he has learned about himself and about life to help those going through the same struggles.
Starting with a case load of about half Caucasian and half Indigenous clients, Clarence has already worked his way up to helping 80% Indigenous clients, with the hopes of soon giving them his full attention.
He says many of his clients have suffered traumas, and they are so disconnected from who they are that they have lost their sense of identity and purpose. Clarence works with them once they have been housed, to fill the deeper gaps in their lives.
“There are a lot of people that will stereotype these individuals for where they are in their lives, but there are so many contributing factors as to the ‘why’. People don’t just wake up one day and say ‘I’m just going to choose to be homeless.’ These are people and they have stories.”
Starting with a holistic assessment, Clarence looks at clients’ physical wellbeing first, helping to set up doctor or dentist appointments, and once they have created a relationship based on trust, they move on to emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing.
“The longest and hardest journey we all have to make is from our knuckles to our elbow. That’s the distance from our heads to our hearts.” He says a big part of finding ourselves is by following our hearts, even when our heads are filled with self-doubt.
Clarence then works with these clients for up to 24 months, helping them with budgeting, personal goals, finding meaningful daily activities and connecting them with other agencies if needed.
“It’s about setting up a support network so that we can slowly transition them out, and then they will have maintained housing stability.”
When asked about his dreams for the future of his role at Lutherwood, Clarence said he would love to take clients out to more cultural events, or out into nature to help them discover their ‘who’, ‘why’ and ‘purpose’ like he was able to, which has transformed him to the point that he is now writing a book about his life.
“Who am I?” Clarence asked with a smile. “I am Kiway Tinway Innine. I am North Wind Man. What does the North Wind do? It puts everything to rest and cleans everything it touches. Why am I? To bridge gaps and walk in both worlds. What is my purpose? To walk with people both Caucasian and Indigenous and to bring them together.”
A traditional honour song performed by Clarence
"Having suffered from a serious mental illness most of my life, I feel the need to give back to those that suffer from similar hardship and struggles; especially the kids in our community. I appreciate being given the opportunity to support children's mental health initiatives like Steps for Kids."