‘Nowhere to go.’ Iqaluit homeless stay in shacks, old boats amid housing crisis


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, takes part in an announcement with Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Friday, Aug 2, 2019. File photo by The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

Nushupiq Kilabuk wakes up every day in a shack on the shores Frobisher Bay in Iqaluit with only a lantern and a camping stove to keep him warm — but he says he’s one of the lucky ones.

Next to his shack, which he built himself a little over four years ago, there are two abandoned boats. One is a wooden fishing boat with a small front cabin, the other, an overturned canoe. Inside the fishing boat are sleeping bags and a jerrycan. Underneath the overturned canoe is a mat and an empty packet of cigarettes.

People have been sleeping in and under these boats at night — often several people crowded together to escape the elements.

That’s why Kilabuk believes he’s fortunate for his shack.

“I thank God for the abundance of what I have. But the people around me that are sleeping around in the boats … I have warmth. I’m lucky. I feel bad for them,” he said Friday.

“But I feel bad for myself too because I don’t have an apartment or running water or power.”

Kilabuk is one of many homeless Inuit living in dilapidated shacks along Frobisher Bay. Some are families with small children. Some are elders. Some, like Kilabuk, do have jobs and incomes, but simply cannot afford the steep rents for homes and apartments.

A Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report published last year found the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Iqaluit was $2,648 in 2017.

There is also a major shortage of housing across the vast territory of Nunavut.

The federal government estimates Nunavut needs more than 3,000 units to meet its current housing demand, with over 4,900 individuals on waiting lists.

That’s why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was keen to call a media conference during his two-day visit to the territory to announce a new housing agreement with Nunavut.

It will provide $290 million over eight years to “protect, renew and expand” social and community housing, as well as repair and build affordable homes across the territory.

“We recognize that this is a big step forward that is going to make a huge difference in creating thousands of homes and we know this is really going to make a tangible impact in the lives of people here in the North,” Trudeau said in Iqaluit.

The newly allocated money will flow to the territory under the Trudeau government’s previously announced, decade-long national housing strategy.

“A few of them have no other choice than to commit a crime and go to jail for the winter. They get themselves a criminal record just to stay in a warm place in the winter.”

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern stood next to Trudeau and expressed gratitude for the federal cash — but both also noted that more is needed.

“It is a housing crisis,” Savikataaq said. MORE

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