Nunavut hopes to draft short-term homelessness plan

Family services considering cooperative and co-housing approaches

By STEVE DUCHARME

Nushupiq Kilabuk inside the modest but sturdy shack he built for himself on the Iqaluit beach front. Kilabuk has been on and off homeless until he built himself his own shelter. The Nunavut government says it is hoping to devise a short term homelessness plan that could include cooperative or co-housing options. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)


Nushupiq Kilabuk inside the modest but sturdy shack he built for himself on the Iqaluit beach front. Kilabuk has been on and off homeless until he built himself his own shelter. The Nunavut government says it is hoping to devise a short term homelessness plan that could include cooperative or co-housing options. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)

Nunavut’s department of Family Services says it will bolster communication, existing support infrastructure and improve policy for the territory’s homeless in a new, short-term, action plan.

Minister of Family Services, George Kuksuk, tabled the plan, entitled “2015-2016: Angiraqangittuliriniq, a Framework for Action for Nunavut’s Absolute Homeless” at Nunavut’s legislature June 7.

“This framework for action takes a ground-up, grassroots approach by using available resources in the most effective, creative, productive ways possible,” the report said.

“Family Services will also work to engage homeless partners and stakeholders across Nunavut to participate in the development of a long-term plan.”

The department says it will work on strengthening its partnerships within the government, namely with the Departments of Justice, Health and the Nunavut Housing Corp. on the issue of homelessness.

“There is an obvious connection between solutions to homelessness and the broader housing work of the Nunavut Housing Corporation,” the plan says.

The plan highlights two missing stages in Nunavut’s “housing continuum” — meaning the range of temporary to permanent housing options for Nunavummiut.

Those missing pieces contribute to overcrowded shelters and provide no transitional options out of subsidized housing, the plan says.

According to recent NHC statistics, 52 per cent of Nunavut’s population relies on social housing. Of that, 38 per cent are living in overcrowded conditions with no means of escape.

In the plan, Family Services is hoping to create transitional, cooperative housing options that would free up beds in emergency shelters.

Currently, Nunavut has only two emergency shelters, both in Iqaluit: the Uquutaq Shelter for men and Sivummut House for women and children.

Cooperative and cohousing options would work well for residents willing and able to move out of social housing but are unable to afford private rentals or home ownership.

“It is important to understand that addressing the lack of housing is not only a matter of more housing, but also a matter of the right kinds of housing to meet the different needs of homeless Nunavummiut,” the plan says.

Not included in the report is any specific data related to the number of Nunavummiut in the territory who are currently and homeless — in either “absolute homelessness” or living on someone’s couch.

The only data cited in the plan comes from the 2014 report “Profile of Homelessness in Nunavut.”

In that study, 25 per cent of respondents polled said income, among other reasons, was the main hurdle to housing.

The new plan also says, “that the relatively small number of respondents [in the 2014 report] may not reflect Nunavut’s population as a whole.”

Statistics from that 2014 report were criticized in Nunavut’s legislature when it was tabled by then-minister of Family Services, Jeannie Ugyuk, in 2014

Ugyuk said there were fewer than 100 homeless Nunavummiut living in the territories three largest communities — Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay and Iqaluit — when the department conducted it’s one-day “points-in-time” poll.

“Personally, I think it’s a disgrace to being led to believe these numbers,” Tununiq MLA Joe Enook said at the time.

“The points-in-time counts provided a sense of the scope of the problem by estimating the number of individuals experiencing absolute homelessness across the territory on one specific day,” the 2015-2016 plan says, of that data.

Ugyuk later told MLAs that the Government of Nunavut did not have a definition for homelessness, but said she would work with stakeholders to develop a “Nunavut-specific” definition for homelessness.

That definition, however, never materialized — and it’s not surprising. Homelessness in the North is different from southern experiences.

You can’t be homeless in the Arctic in winter in Pond Inlet. You wouldn’t survive. So it’s understandably difficult to get a handle on how many people live on the couches and floors of their good-willed neighbours and family members.

The report concludes in saying it will continue talking with partners and stakeholders to formulate a long-term plan in an effort, “to reduce absolute homelessness in Nunavut and ensure that the experience of absolute homelessness is only ever a temporary crisis.”

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