A new place to call home at Vernon Native Housing Society’s Thunderbird Manor

Vernon Native Housing Society

“Honestly, I feel so honoured,” says Riley McLean standing in the kitchen of his new studio apartment. 

The twenty-year-old Métis man recently moved into Thunderbird Manor, a brand new affordable housing complex operated through the Vernon Native Housing Society (VNHS) in downtown Vernon, B.C. 

He says that this opportunity for housing has stopped a cycle that was beginning to transpire because of a lack of safe housing. 

“I’ve been on a constant repetition of moving into places where it was a very poor decision to make because of the people I was going with, which led to a toxic environment.”

McLean says that he has been through some trying times learning to live independently after leaving home at seventeen. 

“I was at the safe house for 75 days, so over two months and then the foster care,” he explains.

On May 23, 2020, McLean was one of the first tenants moved into Thunderbird Manor. The building took almost two years to build and cost $11.8 million dollars. 

It was named after the late Linda Ferguson (Marchand), a co-founder of the VNHS, who passed in 2018. Ferguson, whose traditional name translated to Thunderbird, dedicated a large portion of her life to providing housing to Indigenous Peoples.

“Having suffered racism numerous times in her early years while seeking housing, she knew the feelings of frustration firsthand,” says VNHS Executive Director Karen Gerein. “Her pride in what the society had accomplished over the years was apparent.” 

The new facility was made possible by the VNHS through funding that was sourced through four different partners: the federal government, the province of B.C., the City of Vernon, and VNHS. It is part of the National Housing Co-Investment Fund (NHCF) and was established in May 2018.

Vernon Native Housing Society
Val Chiba, Vernon Native Housing Society president  (left), James Turner, site manager( centre) and Karen Gerein, executive director (right), in front of Thunderbird Manor, a 38 unit apartment complex. Photo by Kelsie KIlawna.

Moving forward

Now all of the tenants have all moved into their units Gerein says that this opportunity to access affordable housing for individuals and families has been a welcomed one. 

“Many were so happy to have a unit that is affordable, meets their needs, has security, laundry in their unit, and is an area that offers many amenities,” she say 

McLean says his new home has given him a newfound sense of pride. 

 “I’m just trying to set an example for my friends and show them that if you stay focused and if you’re on your own you can really take care of yourself.” 

Riley McLean says he’s honoured to be given this opportunity to have his own safe place to call home. Photo by Kelsie Kilawna.

He says that now that he has this home to care for he is learning a lot. 

“It has taught me so many skills, not only just cleaning, but I’ve learned how to budget.”

“I’ve been doing really good saving.”

McLean is now looking to the future, making plans for his educational and career aspirations. 

“I’m still on the journey of getting up to the college to complete my upgrading for some computer skills because I really feel like I can excel in that,” he says. 

With Thunderbird Manor up and running VNHS is looking to the next project.

On June 12th, 2020, the Province of B.C. announced that it’s working in partnership with VNHS to provide an additional 12 townhomes in Vernon. Rent will range from $375 to $1148, providing much needed affordable housing to seniors, people with disabilities, and low income families.

“From young families to seniors, these projects will mean that more people can find a good, affordable home in their community, close to their friends and family,” shared Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in the release.

“People deserve safe, secure and affordable housing.”

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