Jesse Thistle is the Resident Scholar on Indigenous Homelessness at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. This makes him one of Canada’s foremost experts on the subject, and for good reason: he’s been homeless himself. On October 26 he published a new definition of Indigenous homelessness that he hopes will spur decision-makers to shift how they deal with Indigenous people who end up on the street.

Jesse was on and off the street for over 10 years. “I got into some serious trouble with the law, and I was court ordered to go to rehab and sort myself out,” he told me. Eventually Jesse was able to get through rehab, and has now been sober since June 2008. “Part of me trying to figure myself out and my 12 steps was to go back and evaluate my past,” Jesse said.

What he found there was a deep sense of loss. “When I talk to residential school survivors, or people who have been taken by adoption like me and my brothers, our homelessness started in childhood when we were taken from our families,” he said. “From there, the loss of culture, the loss of identity, not knowing what’s your place in society, that leads to homelessness.”