Sheltering the homeless in Iqaluit is expensive and conditions hostile

Kent Driscoll
APTN National News
Iqaluit is the hub of the North in Nunavut with a population of about 7,000 people. It’s also one of the most expensive places to live in Canada and home to some of the poorest people.

Homelessness is another problem.

At just 24, Curtis, who didn’t want his last name revealed, is homeless. He moved home to Iqaluit to work from Ontario and now lives in the local men’s shelter.

For him, it’s about finding hope for a new life.

“Starting up a new life, I guess,” he said. “See what other opportunities have come up here and possibly just establishing myself.”

Currently, 30 men call the shelter home. But there are only 22 beds, in three rooms. A volunteer group runs the building which costs them $8,000 per month in rent.

However, for Curtis and the other residents, it’s literally the difference between life and death.

“Giving individuals, male or female the opportunity to have a place to stay and stuff, establish themselves without having to worry about what to eat and where to sleep. It’s very important,” he said.

The shelter may be overcrowded, but it saves lives.

Last Christmas, a shelter resident went missing and after a few days a city wide search was mounted. The man was found dead about 10 minutes outside of Iqaluit by a snowmobile.

Since then local residents have been asking why the shelter closes every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Curtis has stayed in southern shelters too and sees the difference.

“One thing I really did find convenient about the southern shelters was that they were open 24 hours. In the mornings we are to get out of here at 8:30 and I find myself lingering around in public places until 5 o’clock. That I don’t mind, but it does prevent us from getting comfortable in a way,” he said.

There are other needs that are pressing the already packed building like access to mental health treatment.

“Subsidy programs to get into housing (are needed), job employment, aid and a big one, mental health services,” said Curtis.

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