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Iqaluit men's shelter bursting at seams
We need a bigger building: executive director

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Monday, February 13, 2017

When the Uquutaq Shelter Society held its annual general meeting (AGM) Jan. 28, four dozen or so people attended. It was an unprecedented turnout.

NNSL photo/graphic

The living room and dining area of the Uquutaq men's shelter in Iqaluit, where on most nights men without beds will try to find a place to sleep. Foreground: executive director Doug Cox. Men using the shelter, (not in order): Clayton Sanguya, Peter Salomonie, Wally Shoviga, Martin Frampton, Moses Kunuk and Michael Qaunirq. - Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

Both the chairperson, Janet Brewster, who was reelected, and executive director Doug Cox think that the high interest in homeless men in the capital has to do with the tragic death of Jake Angurasuk in December.

Usually, only about a dozen people show up to the annual general meetings.

"I think people are realizing the concerns the shelter has, and the need for more help. Sadly, Jake is probably a key factor," Cox later told Nunavut News/North.

"I think people here, before we dissolve this board and get another one, want to know what's wrong and how we can help," one resident asked. "Everybody's here because they care and we want to know what we can do."

The Uquutaq Society, which operates the men's shelter, was started when the Salvation Army pulled out of Iqaluit in 2009. It's been challenging since then, but issues have now become more public. And by the time the AGM rolled around, there was hardly a board of directors left.

In answer to the resident's question, Cox said, "Honestly, I think we just need a new building."

That's to handle the number of men that need shelter.

"Everybody seems to turn to the answer that we should be open all day. That's definitely not the answer, to be open 24 hours a day. They want to open the shelter for more public services. There's resources all over town for that," said Cox.

Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern attended the AGM, as well as councillors Terry Dobbin and Kuthula Matshazi and two Iqaluit MLAs. Council visited the shelter the evening of Jan. 30.

A couple days later, in conversation at the shelter with Nunavut News/North, Cox repeated his concern.

"We need a bigger building. We don't want to duplicate the services that are already being provided. I'm not going to do resume writing."

The shelter works with various GN agencies to provide services, such as public health and housing.

"We're concentrating on getting the people in here once a week to do mental illness observation, do health observation, get Iqaluit housing people in once a month to keep everybody on the list.

"It's a shelter," he continued. "That's the point I was trying to make at the AGM and also to city councillors," said Cox.

However, Cox was concerned the men were only ever being offered coffee on empty stomachs.

"When I first started shadowing my old boss to take over as executive director, it sort of puzzled me that we were in a shelter that was open from 5 o'clock at night to 8:30 in the morning. We didn't serve any meals. All we served was coffee."

When Cox spoke to News/North, it was about 10 a.m. and men who stay at the shelter were about, doing laundry, taking showers, watching TV. In the winter, the men get to stay in the warmth of the shelter until 11:30. Such a shelter exists to offer a place to sleep, and in the south that's the extent of the offering.

"I couldn't see the logic of not having a meal. It drove me crazy to the point I was cooking food at home and bringing it for the guys."

Now the men get breakfast and dinner. A cold pantry is full of donated food, though the shelter spent $13,750 for the year ending in March 2016. Cox is adamant that serving endless cups of coffee on an empty stomach contributes to poor health, including poor mental health.

There are generally about 30 men staying overnight, but there are 20 beds. Of those beds, many of them are occupied by 'permanent' residents, though officially a shelter is temporary.

"The only way you lose your bed is if you miss three nights," said Cox.

The men considered 'overflow' stretch out how they can in the living room, on sofas, on recliners, sometimes on piles of blankets on the floor. Their belongings fill the hallway that leads to the emergency exit.

"I didn't want the city council guys to see it, but ..." Cox trails off. "I was going to try to hide it but I want them to see how we deal with it all year round."

He says he doesn't see a new building in the near future. The nature of a new building is complicated by the fact that some men require a permanent residence. Public housing is out of the question - single men fall lowest on the priority list in a city as plagued with the housing crisis as the rest of the territory. Iqaluit falls into the second highest need level, out of four levels.

"To reduce the pressure on this building we would like to see an adult group home situation. We can get the people who have mental illness into that environment, as opposed to being here," said Cox.

He also notes that after homeless men are treated at the Akausisarvik Mental Health Centre, they are often dropped off at the shelter. They have nowhere else to go.

At the annual general meeting, Dobbin raised the issue of a former group home building sitting empty. There is also the Akausisarvik Centre's old location, which also sits empty.

"It's heated, plowed, lights are on. I go by every morning ..." Cox trails off.

Near the existing men's shelter, there is a 10-bedroom house for sale. Meanwhile, the Uquutaq Society pays approximately $100,000 in rent annually to Building 1057 Ltd.

The shelter operates with funds from Family Services, the City of Iqaluit through the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, and the Income Support division. The cost to operate for the fiscal year ending in March 2016 was almost $600,000. There are 12 front-line workers working shifts.

At the AGM, a new board was elected with a full complement, and many in attendance volunteered their services, saying they didn't have time for board work, but were keen to help with fundraising or legal matters - whatever specialty help was needed.

City council, at its Jan. 10 meeting, said it would convene at a special meeting to discuss what it learned from its visit at the shelter.

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