November 29, 2006
A Home For Lily?
Reservation's Housing Crisis Revealed
All she needs is a home for the holidays.
Lily* is a 44-year-old mother of four grown children and six grandchildren who lives on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton. Three children and four grandchildren live with Lily, who is on disability and in poor health, in a substandard, run-down trailer.
With the onset of winter, Lily's woes increase exponentially as she battles with windows that don't close totally, which she covers with plastic and blankets. When it rains, Lily places pans beneath her windows to control leakage. Her roof is caving in, and Lily, who separated from her husband last September, is struggling to survive.
According to The Padoquohan Medicine Lodge, Inc., an organization geared toward tackling a growing crisis in the shape of unsafe, unhealthy and overcrowded housing on the Shinnecock Reservation, Lily's problem is not unique.
"In our community, we have a persistent problem with substandard housing because, number one, you can't get a mortgage on a reservation," said Reverend Holly Haile Davis of the Shinnecock Reservation. "How do you build a house if you can't get a mortgage? Any which way you can."
Most people living on the reservation do not have a salaried job. "We haven't been trained in earlier generations to compete in the modern world. So we have a problem that just continues because there's no way out of that inability to get equity for a mortgage," she said.
Many generations live in one house, said Haile Davis. "And when you do improve your house, it doesn't improve your market value, because it has no market value. So it's that kind of persistent problem. That's why generation after generation stays in poverty."
The Padoquohan Medicine Lodge, Inc. exists as an interfaith prayer group that hosts gatherings and a pledges a commitment to address the escalating housing need on the reservation. The organization, she stressed, has no building. "We don't want to spend any money beyond the money that we raise and spend on housing."
Haile Davis said the organization is not like Habitat for Humanity, which is focused on educating individuals in regard to the economics of what it means to own a house. "It's a whole different idea of what is a house," she said. "For our neighbors off the reservation, a house is an investment. And in our community, that is not true."
When an individual is 21 and a blood member of the tribe, he is eligible for an allotment of land, but to keep an allotment, you have to build a house there. "That, of course, is a major challenge," with poverty rampant. "We have been impoverished for generations," she said. "We are talking about dirt poor people who are trying to get up to poverty level."
But, according to Haile Davis, there is hope, at least for Lily. Local builder Michael White has donated a three-bedroom house to the Padoquohan Medicine Lodge, Inc., to meet the needs of the Shinnecock grandmother.
Time is of the essence, she said.
The Padoquohan Medicine Lodge, Inc., will hold its annual "Thanks 4 Giving Dinner" tomorrow from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Southampton United Methodist Church located at 160 Main Street in Southampton. A donation of $5 will be targeted toward the House for Lily Medicine Lodge Project 2006; guests will feast on native fare including turkey and wild rice stew, mixed vegetables, fry bread, blueberry slump and hard sauce.
*The name has been changed in order to protect her identity.