Day One – Staggering Need
We’ve just returned from an incredible journey to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation where we met with community members to talk about their vision for the new homes we will design and build on their land.
An essential part of any Make It Right project is community design meetings. We believe that before our architects can begin their work creating a home, they need to hear from the people who will live there. Their needs, their dreams, their vision for their community is essential to our design process.
To support our work on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, click here.
Day One Diary
Our design team for this project arrives from around the country and includes Make It Right staff, architects from Architecture for Humanity, Graft, Living Homes, Method Homes, Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative and William McDonough + Partners and low-income homeownership experts from Neighborworks America.
Touring the Fort Peck Reservation neighborhoods in Poplar, Montana, we are immediately struck by the poverty and the need for healthy homes. Some people live in shoddy, substandard public housing. Others live in trailers with tires piled on top to hold the roof down in high winds.
Hundreds of people are on a waiting list for the poor quality homes that exist. We hear stories from people who have nine families living in a five bedroom home and take “sleeping shifts” to share the limited beds. Most homes are smaller, one or two bedrooms. We meet a woman who shares a two bedroom home with her elderly mother and her brother’s family – she and her three children sleep on the floor in the living room.
Housing is not the only need on the Fort Peck Reservation. Poverty, unemployment and substance abuse make life bleak for families.
The Washington Post described the dire situation in Fort Peck earlier this year:
The unemployment rate is more than 50 percent, and problems with alcohol and methamphetamines are widespread, according to tribal leaders. About three of every four children live in poverty. At the high school on any given day, only about half the students show up, said Principal Rayna Neumiller-Hartz.
Stray dogs wander the streets of Poplar, the government seat, which has a few tiny markets, a bar and several gas stations. The streets are littered with the charred remains of buildings because there is no money to clear away debris after a fire.
The struggles of Fort Peck drew national attention three years ago after five middle schoolers committed suicide and 20 others tried to. Tribal leaders declared an emergency, congressional hearings were held and mental health services were beefed up.
“A lot of bad things happen on the rez,” said Ashlee Whitman, 15, who went to live with an aunt after her mother committed suicide and dreams of escaping by joining the military. “When people get bored here from watching TV, they smoke weed or get drunk. There’s nothing to do here.”
Next Entry: Fort Peck Diary Day Two – A Vision for New Homes.
If you would like to contribute to our work with the Fort Peck Tribes, click here.