More room at the inn?
Federal money may build new homeless shelter

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Jun 26/00) - Thirty-four homeless men were forced to seek shelter and sleep under buildings, in porches and in heated lobbies in April.

Turned away from Iqaluit's Oqota Emergency Shelter because the 12 single beds for men were already full, executive director Gordon Barnes said he had no choice but to say refuse the men shelter.

That's something that steals a little piece of his soul every time he has to do it. "What can we do," asked a beleaguered Barnes.

"For the month of April we had 34 turnaways because we're too full, and that's the spring. Can you imagine what it's like in winter?"

But, in light of a recent announcement made by Labour Minister Claudette Bradshaw, next winter might not be as hard on Iqaluit's homeless population.

Part of the federal government's plan to combat homelessness, Bradshaw said Nunavut communities would receive $676,606 over the next three years. While it seems a drop in the bucket given the large number of Nunavummiut in need of housing and the small number of houses available, Homelessness Minister Ed Picco said he was devising a plan to use the dollars effectively.

"I talked to Minister Bradshaw on this and I asked her if it was possible to use this (the funds) to build a new facility. She said yes, that is a possibility. That's the angle I would like to take," said Picco.

While the money available is not enough to build a new facility, Picco said by stretching the project out over the three years and accessing other sources of funding, it was feasible.

"I think over the three-year period, and by accessing some of the other money that has become available under this same strategy, we can do that," he said.

Picco added that additional money could allow Oqota to offer enhanced programs for its clients, a step Barnes has already taken.

"We could do different programs and work projects," he said, noting that a clean-up project of Iqaluit's river employing Oqota's clients was scheduled to begin later this summer.

While Bradshaw's announcement is good news, and does help to put an end to Nunavut's housing crisis, it is nonetheless a Band-Aid solution.

Picco said, however, that he had spoken to his federal counterpart and asked her to change her funding formula for Nunavut.

"The funding is based on per capita or population. The cost in the North is a lot higher," said Picco.

"We need some special arrangement made that factors in costs of living, the higher expenses of the North and the differences between rural and urban homelessness," he said.