Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic December 15, 2011 - 3:24 pm

Overcrowded housing crippling the North’s future: report

"Why has this well-documented crisis continued unresolved over many decades?"

SARAH ROGERS
Inuit Tuttarvingat’s new report on the ongoing Inuit housing crisis says more research is needed to confirm the links between crowded and poor housing conditions with specific diseases and conditions. (FILE PHOTO)
Inuit Tuttarvingat’s new report on the ongoing Inuit housing crisis says more research is needed to confirm the links between crowded and poor housing conditions with specific diseases and conditions. (FILE PHOTO)

Overcrowded housing across the Inuit Nunangat is one of the biggest barriers to Inuit health and well-being, says a new report.

Released Dec. 14, the report If Not Now…When? Addressing the Ongoing Inuit Housing Crisis in Canada was produced by Inuit Tuttarvingat of the National Aboriginal Health Organization.

The report identifies the most critical outcome of the housing crisis that plagues so many Inuit communities across the country: its long-term effect on today’s young Inuit.

The overcrowded housing will hinder their future participation in the North, the report says.

The 70-page report cites 2006 statistics which show that 31 per cent of Inuit live in crowded housing, compared to three per cent of Canada’s total population.

But it also acknowledges that a housing crisis is hardly new, noting that adequate housing for Inuit communities has been a persistent concern since the creation of permanent communities in the Canadian Arctic 60 years ago.

“Housing has been inadequate since Inuit began settling into permanent communities in the 1950s,” said Cathleen Knotsch, a senior researcher and author of the study.

“The crisis is growing to the extent that many children will live their entire childhood in overcrowded houses that might have three, four or five generations living in a two or three bedroom house.”

If Not Now….When? also found that :

• roughly one-half (49 per cent) of Nunavut’s current housing stock is below the housing standards (as measured by Statistics Canada as a need for major repair and/or overcrowding);

• crowding and reduced ventilation contributes to very high rates of respiratory infections among Inuit children;

• Inuit have the highest rates of tuberculosis in Canada (157.5 per 100,000 compared to 0.08 per 100,000 in non-Aboriginal Canadian population);

• crowded housing is linked to failing grades and to behaviour problems among children;

• the housing crisis in many northern communities forces Inuit to southern cities to seek shelter and freedom from violent relationships, which in turns contributes to homelessness in urban centres; and,

• current housing designs in Inuit communities are not made to accommodate traditional activities like cleaning skins, sewing and carving, which can put pressure on family relations and create air quality issues.

But more research on the subject is needed, say the study’s authors.

That’s what they realized as they tried to map the evidence to link overcrowded housing with health issues — and found large gaps in research.

They found few studies have been done to confirm the links between crowded and poor housing conditions with specific diseases and conditions.

“We need to better understand the aspects of inadequate housing that are contributing the most harm to children and adults, and set priorities for scarce housing funds,” said Dianne Kinnon, director of Inuit Tuttarvingat. “We also need to monitor interventions and new approaches to see what works best.”

The study noted that media reports have highlighted the northern housing crisis for decades, offering personal accounts and evidence that overcrowded housing is indeed causing socio-economic problems for Inuit communities.

“This causes us to ask, not why and how the press is reporting on this subject, but rather why has this well-documented crisis continued unresolved over many decades?” the study concludes.

The report grew out of a 2008 Inuit Housing Forum meeting, where representatives of Inuit regional organizations and housing authorities identified a number of needs for knowledge and research on the subject.

See the full report here

And see Inuit Tuttarvingat’s website for more background on overcrowded housing here.

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