Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut June 23, 2011 - 4:52 am

Iqaluit’s Qimaavik shelter overwhelmed, underfunded: director

“How do they expect us to prevent family violence without sufficient support?"

SARAH ROGERS
The Qimaavik emergency women’s shelter has provided 24-hour help and a safe place to women and children throughout the Baffin region, who are fleeing violence since 1986. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
The Qimaavik emergency women’s shelter has provided 24-hour help and a safe place to women and children throughout the Baffin region, who are fleeing violence since 1986. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
Suny Jacobs, the director of the Qimaavik shelter, says the centre's resources have been stretched to their limit. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
Suny Jacobs, the director of the Qimaavik shelter, says the centre's resources have been stretched to their limit. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

A smiling young woman with a sleeping infant snuggled in her amautik greets you outside the Qimaavik women’s shelter in Iqaluit.

But her smile masks a grim story — one she shares with the many other women who pass through Qimaavik’s door every day.

That’s the crisis the financial shelter is now faced with: the number of women using this shelter has increased, but the money needed to help victims of violence hasn’t kept up,  Qimaavik director, Suny Jacob said.

And that’s why the YWCA Agvvik Nunavut, the non-profit group that runs the shelter, wants the territorial and federal governments to step up their support for Nunavut women who leave violent homes and need to get back on their feet again.

The YWCA Agvvik Nunavut operates the 21-bed women’s emergency shelter in Apex, along with a 12-bed women’s homeless shelter in Iqaluit.

But these services, which serve women from 13 communities in the Baffin region, are stretched beyond their limits, Jacob said.

The Government of Nunavut – the shelter’s main funder – should provide more money to the YWCA Agvik, so it can provide more services and better help the women who pass through Qimaavik, she said.

“How do they expect us to prevent family violence without sufficient support?” Jacob said. “We are really frustrated with this imbalance.”

Qimaavik is always full, she said — in 2010, the shelter operated at between 96 and 116 per cent capacity at all times.

That means many women are falling through the cracks, she said.

The recent deaths of Sula Enuaraq and her two young daughters provide frightening examples of what happens when family violence isn’t treated, she said.

“She was a victim of abuse for many years,” Jacob said. “It was sad for me to walk into this place the morning after we heard what happened.”

Jacob could not say whether Enuaraq was ever a client at the shelter, only that the many women at Qimaavik knew her and her children well.

“Many of these women have had sleepless nights here,” Jacob said. “They wonder if they’re next.”

To calm those fears, Jacob says she and her staff also want to see more transitional housing units and prioritized public housing units for families fleeing violence.

But the 25-year-old shelter has struggled for many years to make ends meet – it was even on the brink of closure in 2006.

Now Qimaavik survives on an annual operating budget of about $1.1 million, from the GN’s health and social services, plus programming money from other organizations.

Qimaavik has a staff of 21 — most of them crisis intake workers. The shelter can’t afford basic support, like cleaning staff.

Its 12-bed Sivimmut house in downtown Iqaluit also runs at full capacity.

Women and their children may stay there for extended periods, but Jacob acknowledges it’s only a bandaid solution.

“It’s the same story,” she said. “Housing is still a problem – where are they going to go afterwards?”

Some clients have education, but many have trouble finding even a minimum wage job, Jacob said.

To make matters worse, as soon as they find work, they no longer qualify to stay at Sivimmut and have little time to get housing of their own, she said.

That’s when the “house-hopping” begins.

“When they’re out on their own again, they get frustrated,” Jacob said. “And the frustration drives them right back to where they were.”

Many of the shelter’s clients are back within three months, she said.

Many end up beaten, many resort to suicide, some are even murdered, she said.

“We need somebody to connect these different sectors of the GN we work with [because] one doesn’t know that the other is doing,” Jacob said. “Otherwise, no one can help these women.”

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