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The Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound Hub, Dryden

April 18, 2018 • 30 min read


The Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound Hub brings together key service providers and community leaders around a shared vision in Dryden, a small urban community in northern Ontario. The program model is grounded in Indigenous culture and values; it is an example of thinking differently about how to respond to ‘need’; and it brings service providers together in a broad, system change initiative.

Homeward Bound helps inadequately housed mother-led families to obtain stable housing and to prepare to enter the workforce through job readiness and educational upgrading.  It provides a range of wrap-around services including childcare over a four-year period.

The Dryden Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound Hub is part of a network of Homeward Bound sites throughout Ontario.  The original Homeward Bound model was developed by WoodGreen Community Services and has been culturally adapted by six Friendship Centres across Ontario. The Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres supported a feasibility study of the adaption of this program to urban Indigenous communities. Since then, they have moved forward in their support of the development of Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound programs.

In 2015, the Dryden Native Friendship Centre stepped forward to lead the development of a Homeward Bound program with the support and active participation of Dryden-area service providers.  The development of the program is ongoing.  An unused school site has been secured, some funding has been approved and it is expected that renovation work will proceed in late 2017.  The building will include housing for 15 to 20 families, a child and family centre that is part of the Early Years program, a 30-space child care centre, common gathering areas, and program space for service providers.

Hub Partners

The Hub Lead

  • Dryden Native Friendship Centre (Native Friendship Centre) – is an established service provider in the Dryden community. The organization had a difficult time in the late 2000s and closed its doors, but since then has rebuilt and refocused its work and now employs over 27 staff in the delivery of 17 programs.  The Native Friendship Centre recently received funding and allocated revenue from the sale of a building to renovate their upper floor to double their space to include a conference room, lounge, cultural room, kitchen, internet café and accessible space for a range of different programs and supports. The Executive Director of the Native Friendship Centre is the co-chair of the Dryden Homeward Bound Hub Advisory Committee.
  • Kenora District Services Board (Services Board) – The District Services Board negotiated and purchased a surplus school property from the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board in April 2017. The District Services Board worked with the City of Dryden on the rezoning by-law amendments and the development of the site plan control agreements. The Director of Integrated Social Services is a co-chair of the Advisory Committee. As the designated Service Manager for Ontario Works, the Board will provide services onsite including a designated case manager to assist with income support, child care subsidy and opportunities for upgrading and training. The Services Board is also the designated Children’s Services Manager and plans to open a new Early Years centre in the hub (to be managed by the Native Friendship Centre) and the Services Board will provide the subsidy for the proposed child care spaces in the hub.
  • Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services (Aboriginal Housing Services) – has a mandate to provide safe and affordable housing to First Nation, Inuit and Métis people living in urban and rural areas of Ontario. They receive funding from the federal and provincial governments through the Investment in Affordable Housing program, and issue annual calls for the development of nonprofit housing.

In some cases, the Aboriginal Housing Services is the developer and property manager for the housing, in others they provide the funding only to nonprofit housing providers, and in yet others they act as the property manager, managing about 80% of the total Aboriginal housing portfolio in Ontario.  In Dryden, the Aboriginal Housing Services will renovate the school for housing.

Program Partners

  • Dryden Literacy Association (Literacy Association) – provides literacy and basic skills training such as numeracy, digital, communication and interpersonal skills and helps prepare learners for education, employment and independence. They will assist with academic and employment assessment, provide job readiness training and skills enhancements for the Homeward Bound program participants.

The Executive Director is a member of the employment and training committee and is the chair of the Education and Training Committee (a group of stakeholders) from the local Interagency Council.

  • Northwest Health Unit (Health Unit) – delivers public health services to northwestern Ontario. They have an office in Dryden and will provide mental health and other health related supports to the program participants.
  • Dryden Development Corporation (DDC) – helped with the research and proposal, it provided assistance related to the land acquisition and connected the group with the City of Dryden.
  • Confederation College (College) – Confederation College provides a range of academic and employment related supports. It is a member of the employment and training committee and will provide academic upgrading, pre-employment training, job training and will connect the program participants to the Northwest Employment Works and other community employment services.


  • WoodGreen Community Services (WoodGreen) – provided advice and support and shared their experience, program model and tools and implementation package.
  • Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (Federation) – provided advice and expertise throughout the process and helped with research and the identification of resources.
  • City of Dryden (City) – provided support and advice in particular regarding the rezoning, planning and building processes.


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The Vision

The Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound program model is a different approach to how families are supported. The Chief Administrative Officer for the Kenora District Services Board, Henry Wall, explains that “the current approach very often sets people up for low paying jobs that aren’t stable and don’t pay enough for people to raise families on.”  The Homeward Bound approach fundamentally “changes how families are supported.” It emphasizes supports that wrap around an individual and family over the medium to long term to meet their unique needs and support them to be self-sufficient.  Dryden service providers expect that it will address some of the gaps in services between service sectors that were identified in the Urban Indigenous Action Plan and will provide families with a sustainable alternative to Ontario Works and/or minimum wage, part-time and insecure jobs.

The vision has two important elements that reflect and reinforce Indigenous beliefs and values:

  • The provision of services to support and wrap around the family
  • The bringing together of services and supports to create a whole community to support the family

The Hub will be located in Pinewood School, vacant since 2012, on a six acre serviced lot in Dryden.  Listen to Kenora District Services Board, CAO, Henry Wall talking about the purchase of Pinewood School in April 2017.

Pinewood School

Source: Young, R. (2017, April 3). Pinewood school in Dryden sold to Kenora District Services board. Kenora Online. https://www.kenoraonline.com/local/20334-pinewood-school-in-dryden-sold-to-kenora-district-services-board

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The Journey

This section highlights interesting or unique elements of the journey to develop and operate the hub, rather than a comprehensive, beginning to end, story.

Coming Together

Dryden service providers talked informally about the need to better support Indigenous families.  They seized the opportunity to conduct some research as part of the development of an Urban Indigenous Action Plan led by the Native Friendship Centre. The Centre conducted extensive community engagement and service provider round table discussions that led to shared learning and conversations about gaps, needs, opportunities and ideas. It was the first time that these groups had come together to reflect on their community and their work in the community. The findings from the Action Plan were shared with all participants and formed the basis for initiatives that individual service providers pursued in response to the findings.

Around the same time, the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres was talking to WoodGreen Community Services about the Homeward Bound program model and initiated a feasibility study to determine the applicability of the model to Indigenous communities.

Following the success of the Urban Action Plan process, a group of Dryden service providers formed an education and training committee of the Interagency Council. They wanted to focus on developing programs that were needed in the community and established a job readiness program and built support for the development of a Homeward Bound type program.

The idea of starting a program to address persistent low income and un- and underemployment in Dryden was beginning to gain traction.  In September 2015, the Native Friendship Centre convened a meeting of 45 service providers to talk about employment and training needs.  The group confirmed their support for the development of the Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound initiative in Dryden. It was agreed that there needed to be a group of key stakeholders who were prepared to make an investment and support the development and implementation of the program.  According to Sally Ledger, the Executive Director of the Dryden Native Friendship Centre, “at the end of the day, we had the key partners.  They stood up and said ‘yes’ they would support and invest in the Homeward Bound project.” The Native Friendship Centre, which already provided wrap around services and was a leader in the community, was the natural leader for the development.

The Program Model

The Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound Program Continuum (below) was developed by a group of Indigenous Friendship Centres and is based on the WoodGreen Homeward Bound framework.  Sally Ledger, Executive Director of the Dryden Native Friendship Centre talks to CBC Radio on the Superior Morning show in June 2016 about the program

Indigenous clients will be supported to move through the four stages of the program:

  1. Skills training and academic upgrading (preparatory) – life skills, employment skills, computer training, financial literacy, etc.
  2. Formal education or career exploration – up to a two-year college or diploma program
  3. Internship and on-the-job training – between 30 and 52 weeks
  4. Employment and self-sufficiency – with continued program support for one year while participants transition to independence

The overall program is based on community engagement and access to resources, and the involvement of the local business community.  Wrap around services will include housing, income support, child care, and cultural and peer supports.

Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound Continuum

Click the image for a full-size version

The Advisory Committee

Hub development is led by an Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound Advisory Committee – comprised of leaders from the Dryden Native Friendship Centre, Kenora District Services Board, and the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services. The Literacy Association and Confederation College work together on Homeward Bound employment and education supports and are also members of the Advisory Committee.

This group is supported by advisors including WoodGreen, the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres and the City of Dryden, through their Economic Development Corporation.  An Industry Council made up of local business representatives will be established to provide advice and support to the Homeward Bound Hub program.

Hub Leadership

While the partners share responsibility for the success of the Hub initiative to date, they also point to the important leadership role played by the Native Friendship Centre.

The Dryden Native Friendship Centre was the right lead partner for the Hub for a number of reasons.  They had a good reputation and were respected for their work on the Urban Action Plan, bringing together different organizations to talk about community concerns and opportunities.

They were among the first to express interest in the Homeward Bound model when it was presented by WoodGreen and the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres. They are trusted within their community. The Native Friendship Centre approach is to provide a range of cultural and support services to the Indigenous community – in other words, they had experience with hub-type wrap-around services.  And finally, the Executive Director had the skills to bring the people together and was able to make the time and had capacity to support the initiative over the years.  As Sally Ledger, the Executive Director reflected, she is a “stubborn” and strong advocate for the program.  “Commitment and accountability to the community” and the “cultural support for Indigenous community” are key drivers of her work.

Capacity to Develop the Hub

Developing Hub relationships takes time and effort.  Wendy Olson, Executive Director of the Dryden Literacy Association, commented that while “her board of directors is very supportive of the initiative and can see the long term benefits”, she has had to be careful “not let all her time go to the Hub” at the expense of her own organization. It takes leadership, time and concerted effort to develop a hub.

Ledger “acknowledges that the hub project responds to community needs and is most definitely worth the time and effort”, but “it isn’t part of her mandate or job description and has been an add-on that is off the side of her desk.”

One of the key challenges was how to support the development of partner relationships and in turn, to support the partners to develop the hub.  The Executive Director knew that the initiative needed support but the Native Friendship Centre didn’t have the resources. Funding was obtained from an Urban Partners program grant from the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres for a part-time project coordinator position which ended in March 2017 and from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which will end in December 2017. “One of the challenges has been staff turnover.  It is impossible to offer job stability when you try to piecemeal a project together with project funds from different funders” explained Ledger.  Nonetheless, she is very thankful that she has staff that is committed to the process.

Another challenge is to obtain funding to move to the next stage of the hub – the development and implementation. The current program and concept development-oriented funding will run out at the end of the year and it is uncertain if there will be funding to support the next steps. A request for a local poverty reduction grant was denied but the proposal has been reworked and a new application has been submitted for funding.  Efforts are also underway through the OFIFC to obtain base funding through a new program to support the group of seven Indigenous Homeward Bound programs but no decision has been received.

But it doesn’t end there.  Ledger knows that others “want to learn from the Dryden experience” and that there needs to be evaluations of the development process and of the implementation. They plan to work with WoodGreen to evaluate the initiative, but again, that takes resources.

There is frustration among the partners that there is limited funding available to develop initiatives like the Dryden Hub, but that there are few or no resources to support the implementation and operation of a hub.  If funding is not approved this fall, the project coordinator position will end due to lack of money.


Financing the Hub

Henry Wall, CAO of Kenora District Services Board met with the Director of Education of the Keewatin-Patricia School Board and they easily came to “a common understanding” that Homeward Bound “would provide a better support system for children and families” than the current service system.  Wall continues “we agreed that the school was a public asset and that this was the best use for the school” and were able to reach a deal on a below market value price for the school site and building.

The Services Board didn’t have a budget for the purchase and took the funds out of their reserves.  The District has a levy stabilization mechanism to maintain consistent levies to partner municipalities; over time this has led to an accumulated reserve which the DSB members agreed could be used to purchase the Pinewood School.  Based on the success of this initiative, DSB members are hopeful that reserves will be available be used in similar ways in other municipalities in the District in the coming years.

The Aboriginal Housing Services received funding approval of $3.4 million in October 2017 for the development of 20 housing units with a condition that they begin construction within 90 days of the approval which highlights the urgency for Justin Marchand, from the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, because time is passing.  He estimates that Aboriginal Housing Services will need to borrow about $600,000 to $700,000 to finance the redevelopment related to the housing units through a 20 year mortgage.  It is expected that the building and any related land will be severed and transferred or leased through a long-term (life of asset) lease to the Aboriginal Housing Services from the Services Board at minimal cost.  Negotiations are ongoing.

Many of the other pieces of the hub development remain outstanding and it is difficult to proceed. On October 16, 2017, the City of Dryden Council approved the necessary zoning by-law amendments.  While the rezoning application was very recently approved however funding for other non-housing elements is still uncertain.  Ledger explains that “part of the challenge is the timing for funding and the need to get funding from lots of different pots and programs” This means that they can’t sit down and do the detailed planning – they are too busy chasing the dollar and waiting for funding decisions.” Marchand acknowledges the uncertainty, “a lot of up front work has been done in the hope that the program will be funded.  It is risky… but the program vision and partner commitment is worth the risk.”

The Services Board has applied for funding for expansion of the Early Years program and for 30 additional subsidized child care spaces for the hub program but decisions have not yet been received.

Additional capital funding will be needed to support the non-housing related renovations to the hub space, the Early Years Centre and the child care centre.

The partners have a “worst case scenario if they don’t get funding” according to Ledger. There is a strong level of commitment to the project and accountability to the local community and efforts will be made by the partners to continue to secure funding.  In the worst case the housing will be built – but probably not much more.  It will be an important, but incomplete, gain for the community.

Ongoing Financial Sustainability

The Native Friendship Centre will manage the hub program and the Aboriginal Housing Services will manage the property and be the landlord for the housing units. Lease costs will need to cover utilities and operating costs and will be pro-rated to the amount of space used by the service partner.  If space is made available to private-sector groups it will be at full market rate.

Community Reaction

Some of the partners experienced community opposition to earlier developments planned for the Indigenous community.  In one instance the community backlash resulted in the rejection of a request for rezoning of a site by the City of Dryden for housing for Indigenous students studying in Dryden.  The partners wanted to avoid a repeat of that experience and negative reactions from the  community.

A development by the Aboriginal Housing Services of 30 affordable housing units in the downtown area of Dryden demonstrated a commitment to quality and integration of a development into the local community.  The development received a downtown association beautification award and local support and has helped to reduce negative reaction to the current proposal.  The city was supportive of the Homeward Bound proposal because of this track record, “they knew it would be done right and the community would be proud of it” emphasized Marchand, from the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services.

The Homeward Bound partners “were proactive with the neighbours and talked to them about what was going to be done at the school” according to Marchand. A team of staff from the different partners worked hard to provide information about the proposed redevelopment and the new program – it was important to them to have the support of the local community.  Ledger is “thrilled” that the project has neighbourhood support.  Wall, from the District Services Board, thinks it “has become a community project, as witnessed through the property re-zoning community consultation process. It was even featured in an article in Bearskin Airlines magazine.”

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Benefits And Value Added

While there isn’t a direct relationship, it appears that the inclusive process that led to the development of the Homeward Bound Hub has fostered spin-off initiatives in other service areas. The Services Board is engaged in a partnership with Confederation College to bring child care into schools and provide more support for students with families. The Northwest Health Unit is partner on an emergency shelter in Kenora.  The Native Friendship Centre, Dryden Regional Health Centre and the Services Board are working with the City of Dryden to develop a transportation initiative in the city.  Waasegiizhig Nanaandawe’iyewigamig, the Kenora Aboriginal Health Access Centre, has applied for funding for an Indigenous interprofessional health care team, an initiative that Sally Ledger would like to build on by “putting a health clinic into the hub.” As is the case in other hubs, relationships are formed through the hub process that lead to initiatives in other service areas.


The hub process is a ‘win-win’. Smaller northern communities like Dryden have unique challenges and the service sector needs to work together.  No one service provider has “the whole pot and if they each bring their part, they can build capacity” and “develop local solutions to local challenges at the systems level” observed Henry Wall from the District Services Board. There is increased awareness about services and programs available in the community and providers have stronger relationships with each other. The partners agree with Wendy Olson from the Literacy Centre that it has been a “long haul and a lot of work” but that finding common ground and building local solutions to local issues is energizing.

The model itself will also bring benefit to the women and children who are part of the hub.  It is strongly grounded in Indigenous values and culture, it ensures that families have safe, affordable and quality housing, and it embeds literacy and learning, and supports the transition to employment and sustainability.  The four-year program model provides time to move through the program phases.

The process to develop the hub engaged the local community in a conversation about the proposal.  The leaders also connected with the City and the Services Board and got local political support.  The plans to establish an Industry Council to engage the local business community will further strengthen the connection to the Hub.  These relationships are important to the successful development and operation of the Hub and to building a strong community in Dryden.

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Lessons Learned and Advice

Lesson 1

The vision for the school as a location for the Homeward Bound program grew from conversations in the community over a number of years.  The vision wasn’t imposed by a small number of service providers – it was germinated, shared and strengthened over time.  At the same time, there was a growing conviction that the current structure of services and supports needed to change – there was an opportunity to try a different program model and approach.  The strong vision and commitment of the partners to a new way of working together are key ingredients of the success of this hub.

Lesson 2

The hub is about relationships.  In the first instance, it is a circle of people and organizations coming together around a common purpose and vision.  The vision is to build a hub or inner circle that will wrap-around and support a community of Indigenous mothers and their families.

Lesson 3

Like other hub initiatives, the Dryden Homeward Bound Hub demonstrates the willingness to take risk.  The property was purchased before funding was confirmed; the capital funding required construction within 90 days and before the various requests for capital and operating funding were decided.  The Hub leaders assessed the level of risk, made worst-case scenario plans, and continued to plan for the best.

Lesson 4

No one service provider or policy maker has the answer or the resources to address community needs.  The case study shows that by bringing a systems approach to working together organizations can collectively, and more successfully, address community needs. Limited community resources need to be carefully harnessed and deployed – the hub process defined the vision and philosophy and delegated responsibility for aspects of its development to those with the best experience and expertise.

Lesson 5

The decision to ask service providers/leaders to commit to the project from the beginning and to ask for a core group to lead the development and implementation was a good decision.  Roles and expectations were clear and there was a strong base of support from the service community, regardless of whether they were directly involved or not.

Lesson 6

Partners spent time knocking on doors in the local community and explaining the proposed renovations and plans for the unused school.  This up-front effort to connect directly with local residents served to eliminate local resistance to the rezoning for the hub development that had been experienced in a previous redevelopment effort.

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