Gov’t survey highlights hidden homelessness in Nunavut, Canada

The hamlet of Gjoa Haven was one of four surveyed by Nunavut’s Department of Family Services in 2018. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)
Data from 4 Nunavut communities underscores long-standing housing crisis

A survey of more than 320 homes across four Nunavut communities paints a familiar story — many are severely overcrowded and hundreds of adults and children experience homelessness.

The results from a 2018 survey by the territory’s Department of Family Services were tabled last month in Nunavut’s legislature.

It details, in some instances, dwellings of nine or more, people sleeping in laundry rooms and porches, while others spending the night in shacks.

“It’s a snapshot of stories that very likely exist in every community in Nunavut,” said Lindsay Turner, director of the Poverty Reduction Division at Family Services.

“We wanted to recognize and acknowledge that this is a story of many Nunavummiut that … don’t know where they’re going to sleep tonight.”

The survey estimates more than 400 people across four Nunavut communities — Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Arviat and Gjoa Haven — have either no home, sleep at multiple places or a combination of both.

The surveys were conducted between February and June 2018. A total of 328 dwellings took part. While some respondents volunteered, the majority were selected at random.

The communities were identified in part based on a 2010 Nunavut Housing Needs Survey and having an Inuit population growth of at least 10 per cent between 2010 to 2016.

The department notes each community is unique and the samples sizes are small, so drawing conclusions at a territory-wide level should be avoided.

Turner says despite the limitations, it gives more context and a better sense of the scale of homelessness in the territory.

Results show hundreds experience homelessness

The survey results show that roughly between five and 7.4 per cent of individuals across all four communities reported experiencing a form of hidden homelessness or instability in accessing housing.

To estimate how widespread the issue is, the percentages were applied to each communities’ 2018 populations. Based on that calculation, the department provided an estimate on the number of people in each community believed to be experiencing homelessness:

  • 85 in Pond Inlet
  • 70 in Clyde River
  • 146 in Arviat
  • 104 in Gjoa Haven

The survey provided similar figures for children and youth in the four communities. According to the survey, around five to 11 per cent were reported as experiencing some form of hidden homelessness or housing instability, including an estimated:

  • 43 in Pond Inlet
  • 46 in Clyde River
  • 65 in Arviat
  • 64 in Gjoa Haven

Sixty to 75 per cent of respondents in the communities said they and their family had run out of food sometime in the 12 months prior to the survey. Less than half of respondents were employed.

It paints a picture of hopelessness.– Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main

The department also surveyed 22 couch-surfers, people who everyday are seeking a place to sleep for the night. The youngest was 18 years old while the oldest was 55. Nearly half said their children accompanied them.

“It paints a disturbing picture of interconnected issues of overcrowding, lack of housing, poverty, food security, addictions, violence, and unfortunately we know that these issues are affecting whole families, including children,” said Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main during a sitting of the Nunavut Legislature Monday.

“It paints a picture of hopelessness.”

He pointed to one section of the report which said a number of respondents felt there was no reason to add their names to the public housing waiting list because there was a common belief that the selection process was unfair or felt it would be impossible to get the top of the list.

It’s currently estimated Nunavut has a housing shortfall of 3,000 units.

Drop-in spaces needed

The survey also shows about three quarters of individuals reported needing respite — or a break — from their houses with the exception of Arviat, where the figure was 61 per cent.

The department said drop-in spaces, land-based healing retreats or spaces to do daily activities like preparing food or doing laundry could provide a break from the stresses created by overcrowding and homelessness.

“Gjoa Haven has no such respite places whatsoever, none,” said the hamlet’s MLA, Tony Akoak in the legislature Monday.

Turner says work is underway to create those spaces in communities.

“We’re working with a number of communities across the territory and have communicated broadly to everyone that if they are looking to partner with us and work with us on solutions, that we’re there to work with them,” she said.

Read the full report: Nunavut Hidden Homelessness Survey here

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Nunavut men left homeless after COVID-19 pushes court dates, CBC News

United States: Alaska capital budget vetoes to hit homelessness, addiction treatment, Alaska Public Media

John Van Dusen, CBC News

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