Things have gone from bad to worse for Daniel Hillman.
The 58-year-old Iqaluit resident is already homeless, and on Sept. 13, accidentally burned part of his tent he lives in while cooking on his camp stove.
“I’m nervous right now,” he said on the morning his tent caught fire. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s just bad luck on bad luck on bad luck.”
Hillman has been living in Iqaluit for about 25 years, and in that time, has done everything from working in food service, to driving a taxi, to serving as the Vice President of the Commission Scolaire Francophone du Nunavut (CSFN), the territory’s French school board.
He has been homeless for just over three weeks, since he stopped staying with a friend in town.
There are many factors that led him to current situation, most notably a few tough breaks in the real estate industry, and lost wages during the pandemic.
He also suffers from a number of health problems as a result of a previous stroke, which has made it impossible for him to keep working.
“I’m not able to work anymore,” he said. “I have problems with my legs, standing up a long time or walking a long time, and I have problems with my memory.”
Hillman receives a small amount of money through his disability pension, but not enough to get by on, and certainly not enough to rent an apartment with. He said he attempted to access more support through the Government of Nunavut’s Income Assistance program, but didn’t have any luck.
“I receive a disability pension,” he said. “It’s not much, but they said to me ‘you’re making too much money.’ I’m making too much money? I don’t have enough to pay for a room or food.
“Do you know how much she gave me? 27 cents. I was speechless. I thought she was trying to make a joke.”
Hillman’s experience trying to get support from GN programs has left him with the opinion that they “don’t give a [expletive]” about him—though he was quick to apologize for his use of profanity.
Thankfully, he has been able to get by nonetheless, due in large part to the charity of other people in the community, who have provided him with food and occasional opportunities to shower and wash his laundry.
“The help I have had, the majority has come from Inuit people,” he said. “It’s not the rich people helping me, it’s the poor ones.”
“They’re nice,” he added. “They care. They have compassion.”
While Hillman is often worried about where his next meal will come from, his greatest concern is the rapid approach of Iqaluit’s long, dark, and brutally cold winter. Surviving the winter in a tent will be nearly impossible.
“I’m worried about that every day,” he said. “I shouldn’t say every day. I’m worried about it every minute.”
Hillman has considered staying at one of Iqaluit’s men’s shelters, but said there were no beds available when he tried. He has also been in touch with the local housing authority in hopes of finding a place to live, but the process is slow.
“I have no clue,” he said when asked what he would do this winter.
Hillman’s partner, who has been living in his tent with him, may eventually be able to procure housing through his job, which has provided the couple with “some hope”—but that is still by no means a certainty.
It is a terrible situation for Hillman, but still not enough to deter him from helping other members of the community who are also in need.
On the evening of Sept. 12, for example, he could be seen offering to donate some of the little food he had to a needy family on Facebook.
It might come as a surprise to see a man with so little make such an offer, but for Hillman, it was an easy choice.
“[I offered] because people help me,” he said. “It’s normal to give a little back. If everyone helps each other, the world’s going to be way better.”