More than 400 people in Arviat, Gjoa Haven, Pond Inlet and Clyde River experienced some form of homelessness or housing instability in 2018, as did up to 11 per cent of children and youth in those surveyed communities.
These were among the findings from the Nunavut Hidden Homelessness Report, which was filed in the legislative assembly in late September.
Tony Akoak, Gjoa Haven's MLA, urged the territorial government to turn unused buildings into residences.
“The (surplus) buildings are not being used over 10 years. That's what I'm hearing. There is staff housing not being used. Community representatives have all been asking for assistance to renovate some type of buildings like that,” Akoak said. “We need homes for the homeless. It's increasing.”
David Akeeagok, acting minister for the Department of Family Services, said the research from the report, two years in the making, will be used to “build awareness of the extent and impact of homelessness in Nunavut and to advocate for additional resources."
Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal told Nunavut News earlier this month that the Government of Canada's $1-billion national rapid housing program to repurpose old buildings is applicable to Nunavut.
The homelessness report – produced by the Department of Family Services, the Nunavut Housing Corporation and Employment and Social Development Canada – showed that up to 33 per cent of the
328 dwellings surveyed in the four communities sheltered seven or more individuals and had more than two people sleeping per bedroom, reflecting the common overcrowded conditions.
Close to half of respondents indicated that, at some point, a room was used for sleeping that wasn't a bedroom.
Up to seven per cent of the dwellings reported areas outside of the house being used for sleeping.
Approximately 95 per cent of survey respondents said they are Inuit and up to 70 per cent – depending on the community – were female.
Clyde River, Gjoa Haven, Arviat and Pond Inlet were chosen as the surveyed communities based on their relatively high number of income assistance clients in 2016, a high number of hidden homelessness cases reported in a 2010 housing needs survey and Inuit population growth of at least 10 per cent between 2010 and 2016.
A spokesperson for Family Services stated that the department is in the early stages of working with the four surveyed communities to “identify and develop homelessness supports.” In addition, the department is in the process of hiring regional homelessness outreach workers who will be able to support homeless Nunavummiut in accessing services.
The report acknowledges the ripple effect that overcrowding can have including impacts on mental health and increases in substance abuse, conflict, violence, suicide and the spread of disease.
Although the document revealed many discouraging findings, it also highlighted the graciousness and responsive nature of Nunavummiut in coming to the aid of those in need.
“We’ve heard many stories of hardship and suffering but also of resilience and community and family support. Every day, individuals and organizations in our communities work selflessly and tirelessly to help those without a home. It is clear from the survey data that many of Nunavut’s homes are severely overcrowded and many of Nunavut’s children and youth are living in precarious circumstances. It is also clear that the value of Pijitsirniq is strong in our communities as family and friends open their homes to help those in need,” a passage from the report reads.
“It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges of homelessness. There is, however, a rich diversity and depth of community programming, resources and ideas. We are committed to continuing the work to create a future where all Nunavummiut have access to the tools, supports and services needed to find and maintain safe,stable housing. Let us work together to create a strong, co-ordinated housing continuum and continuum of supports to ensure that Nunavummiut have access to a range of affordable and suitable housing options where they can thrive.”
Homelessness survey findings
-The percentages of people who reported using income assistance were 25.3 per cent in Pond Inlet,
40 per cent in Clyde River, 47 per cent in Arviat and 47.2 per cent in Gjoa Haven. The department’s 2018 income assistance data indicates that 45 per cent of Pond Inlet's population were social assistance
recipients, 69 per cent in Clyde River, 46 per cent in Arviat and 60 per cent in Gjoa Haven.
-The percentage of respondents who reported being employed at the time of the survey was
around 45 per cent in all communities except Arviat, where it was 30 per cent.
-Between 64.5 per cent and 88 per cent of respondents, depending on the community, said they had no certificate, diploma or degree.
-Nunavut's three homeless shelters were accessed by 252 unique clients in 2018-19, based on shelter occupancy reports in 2018-19.
- Nunavut’s five family violence shelters accommodated 569 people (290 women and 279 children) in 2018-19.
-The territory has an estimated housing shortfall of 3,000 units.
-The territory's first transitional housing program is being offered this year.
Source: Nunavut Hidden Homelessness Report