Child vandals out of control
Cause $8,000 damage to residential unit

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

IQALUIT (Feb 08/99) - A few months ago, Susan Spring was just plain mad.

As of last week, as well as being angry, she started to feel more than a little helpless about the ongoing vandalism that's happening in some of the social housing units she presides over in Iqaluit.

Funding for repairs
comes through

The manager of the Iqaluit Housing Authority said last week that there was a bit of light at the end of the housing tunnel.

Susan Spring said that $146,170 in funding had been given to the Housing Authority by the territorial housing corporation to repair four of the six public housing units recently made uninhabitable by vandalism.

"That's a lot of money and it could have built two-thirds of another house. It would have been a good start to something," said Spring.

The one-time special funding will go towards the purchase of materials such as abuse-resistant gyprock which, because of its weight, will have to come up on the sealift. This means it won't be here for about another six months.

Until then, Spring said the more than 50 people currently on her waiting list would remain without public housing.

"There's no doubt, we need more housing and we're not making any progress."

"It's the same old stuff, the same old story. All kinds of damage and no ability to pay for it," said Spring, the manager of Iqaluit's Housing Authority since 1993.

And while the vandalism sometimes seems like old hat to Spring -- it has now pulled a total of six much-needed public housing units off the renters' market -- the most recent bout of destruction has left her even more upset than usual.

"This time, it's 11-year-old kids doing this. The police were questioning an 11-year-old," said Spring, who first became aware of the damage when the tenant who lived at the unit came into the Housing Authority last Monday.

"He said he had already been in to see the RCMP and we told him to go back home and we'd meet him there."

Upon entering the unit, Spring said the damage, which totals $8,000, was overwhelming. Walls and doors in the apartment and the hallway had been completely destroyed and the vapour barrier in the insulation had been breached.

According to Const. Craig Thur of the RCMP, only one child was at the apartment when he arrived, but he suspected that a group of seven or eight children ranging between eight and 16 years of age were likely responsible for the damage. He said it appeared that several of them had been living or sleeping at the residence for the last few days, and that all but two were previously known to the police regarding other matters.

"You wouldn't have believed how filthy it was. When we got there, there was an 11-year-old girl passed out in a pile of filthy clothing," said Thur.

"With some of the kids there's not much home life or parental support... part of the problem was that the fellow who was supposed to be living there was probably not capable (mentally) of looking after himself. Kids see that weakness and they exploit that."

Still in the process of tracking down all of the children involved, Thur said there was also proof that some of them had been sniffing a toxic substance and using marijuana.

"We asked the kids about it and they said they got (the marijuana) from a 14-year-old girl."

Once everyone has been located, Thur said it was likely that some of the older children would be charged under the Young Offenders Act, but that adding to their criminal records wouldn't do much to solve the underlying problem.

"It's sad. We put a band-aid on it and deal with the situation at the time. These kids who are eight, nine and 10 years old are the ones we're going to be dealing with at 22."

This latest act of vandalism comes less than two months after four other unsupervised children accidentally started a fire that very nearly killed two of the boys involved and caused $1 million in damage. Thur said that something very serious needs to be done about the town's children who are completely out of control.

"People need that housing and when it's made unliveable by a lack of control, a lack of respect, the whole community ends up bearing the brunt."

Spring said she wanted the entire matter turned over to the RCMP's family group conferencing so they would have to come face-to-face with her.

"I told (Thur) I was mad as hell and wanted restitution and to have it turned over to family group conferencing. I want the parents and those kids to stand up there in front of me and tell me what they're going to do about it."