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Iqaluit couple makes hidden homelessness public

Pitsiulaaq Ashoona carries her 18-month-old child outside their tent on the lawn of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly following a meeting with MLAs and ministers.

After four years without a home Brian Tagalik and Pitsiulaaq Ashoona pitched their tent outside of the Legislative Assembly to bring awareness to hidden homelessness in Iqaluit.

Avery Zingel/NNSL photo
Brian Tagalik and Pitsiulaaq Ashoona pitched a tent outside of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly to bring light to their chronic, invisible homelessness.

“It will give the public outcry that people need to realize the true scope of housing in Nunavut,” said Tagalik.

Hidden homelessness includes couch surfing and temporary accommodations, but without immediate prospects for permanent housing.

Tagalik and Ashoona are common law partners and plan to sleep outside with their two children ages one and seven until their situation is remedied.

Homelessness has imposed unpredictability into their everyday lives, said Ashoona as she sat in the Legislative Assembly after a meeting with ministers and MLAs.

Lower positions including her job as a medical records clerk don’t come with housing.

Ashoona has worked with the Government of Nunavut (GN) for nearly 15 years in casual and relief positions in the Department of Health with no offer for an indeterminate position and the accompanying housing security.

Tagalik completed college, and Ashoona finished her first year of nursing before taking a job with the GN.

“Once you’re done your program, if you don’t get an (indeterminate) government job, there are no outlets for you to receive any employment that comes with housing,” said Tagalik.

The two found themselves homeless and couchsurfing with family and friends. That has become untenable and made it even more difficult for Ashoona to get a full time position.

Being kicked out or having a rough sleep because of a rowdy homeowner can turn the next day into a write-off, she said, as her 18-month-old child poked her head outside of her amauti.

“If we’re put out in the middle of the night, we have to pack all our things and find a place to stay,” said Ashoona. “If we’re kept up all night and barely had any sleep, I’ll miss work in the morning.”

Ashoona has “amazingly” kept her casual employment, despite the unpredictability, said Tagalik.

As winter sets in, the family has moved their belongings into the tent, which they plan to stay in until there is a resolution to their homelessness.

Pitsiulaaq Ashoona carries her 18-month-old child outside their tent on the lawn of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly following a meeting with MLAs and ministers.

On Wednesday morning, Tagalik and Ashoona met with Nunavut Housing Corporation president Terry Audla, Minister Pat Angnakak, Minister of Family Services, Elisapee Sheutiapik and MLA Adam Lightstone.

During the meeting, they discussed solutions for the family’s housing situation.

They were also invited to the Iqaluit Housing Authority meeting wednesday. This year, there are 10 units of public housing that are coming available through the Iqaluit Housing Association. The family hopes one will be available for them.

After years of couch surfing they had “nowhere left to go,” said Tagalik.

“It’s been the toughest, most tiring, scariest, loneliest time. I don’t wish it on anybody, let alone a person who has two children,” he said.

Using shelters would force family to split up

While the Qimaavik Women’s Shelter would take in Ashoona and the children, Tagalik would be forced to a different location, he said.

The family wants to stay together, he said.

“I’ve slept in cars, I’ve slept in shacks. You name it ... anywhere to get my head down or my family a peaceful sleep, we’ve done it,” he said.

“Even when we were couchsurfing, sometimes we’ll get up dog tired and only have a handful of hours of sleep. It’s tiring and very difficult to have a routine when you don’t even have a place to sleep at night,” he said.

Sometimes the unstable environment housing means their eldest daughter doesn’t go to school, said Tagalik.

“This is the perfect example. We’re halfway through the week and my daughter hasn’t been to school once because we’re sleeping in a tent and trying to get people to see what Inuit are living through,” he said.

The family first added their names to the housing waitlist four year ago.

Homelessness is a “major issue across Nunavut,” said Ashoona.

“There are families in small communities who wait five to 10 years for a unit,” she said.

The GN does not have the requisite funding to fill a 3,500 unit shortfall, nor does it have perfect numbers on how many people experience homelessness, said housing corporation president Terry Audla.

“People fall through the cracks and the problem is that there are just so many cracks,” said Audla.

In every community, Audla recommends filling out an application to give a “truer number” of who needs housing.

“It helps us in our cause to try and leverage more money out of the federal government,” he said.

Housing takes up 14 percent of Nunavut’s budget. Comparatively, the Ontario, the government spends .1 per cent of its budget on housing, he said.

“The realities are that across the territory we’re in a housing crisis so we need to catch up to the need at least 3,500 units. That’s huge in this territory,” he said.

The private market is “unattainable” and most Nunavummiut don’t have access to diverse housing options, he said.

“Here in Nunavut its public housing, or hopefully a government job,” said Audla.

Two years ago the federal government announced $240-million over 10 years, allowing for the construction of 40 units per year.

Currently, they are building 100 yer year but Audla anticipates it could take up to 60 years to build the number of units needed at current funding levels.