Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Iqaluit September 27, 2018 - 11:15 am

Nunavut family pitches tent at legislature to protest “hidden homelessness”

“We are not uneducated. We do not have huge debt with public housing. We are able to work"

COURTNEY EDGAR
This family of four pitched a tent outside the legislative assembly in Iqaluit on the evening of Monday, Sept. 24. They say they're running out of couch-surfing options this winter, and they intend to keep sleeping in their tent until they're offered a spot with public housing. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)
This family of four pitched a tent outside the legislative assembly in Iqaluit on the evening of Monday, Sept. 24. They say they're running out of couch-surfing options this winter, and they intend to keep sleeping in their tent until they're offered a spot with public housing. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)

Brian Tagalik has lived in Iqaluit for half his life, and he has a college education. So does his common-law partner, who has a job she likes at the hospital.

They have two young daughters. One is seven years old; the other, 18 months.

One thing they don’t have, though, is a home.

On Monday, Sept. 24, around midnight, the couple pitched a tent on the grounds of the legislative assembly in Iqaluit when they say they ran out of couch-surfing options.

The couple wants to send the message that Inuit are not being prioritized when it comes to public and staff housing—and that needs to change.

The family plans to sleep outside the legislative assembly building until they are offered a spot in public housing. They have heard that their names will be moved higher up the waiting list if they are living in a tent.

“That being our final option and winter coming and us being couch surfing for the last four years, we thought: there is no way we are going to survive another winter doing this,” Tagalik said.

This precarious housing situation is sometimes described as “hidden homelessness.”

Tagalik has been staying home to care for their daughters. Pitsiula Ashoona, Tagalik’s partner, has been working in relief and casual positions for the Government of Nunavut for years.

“I started at the front desk at the Baffin Regional Hospital, then it turned into QGH and I worked at the front desk again. I moved between the medical office and the front desk for 15 years,” Ashoona said. “They just kept renewing my contract for a four-month term.”

These short-term contracts meant she wasn’t eligible for staff housing.

Only 377 out of 1,420, or 26.55 per cent, of government staff employees who receive staff housing are Inuit from Nunavut, according to statistics released by the Department of Finance in late June.

The Department of Health had one of the lowest percentages of Inuit receiving staff housing, with just 19.7 per cent.

The family says they’ve been on the waiting list for public housing for about four years. But because they left Nunavut for nine months at one point, their wait had to start over again when they returned.

The couple met with cabinet ministers on Wednesday morning, when they were invited to attend a Iqaluit Housing Authority meeting scheduled for that night.

A representative of the premier’s office said they would talk to the health minister about expediting the process of converting Ashoona’s job from a relief position to a casual term or indeterminate position, said MLA Adam Arreak-Lightstone, who was also at the meeting. That could make Ashoona eligible for staff housing.

“It is unfortunate that they have been through all of this, especially with their little ones,” Lightstone said.

“I applaud them for conducting a demonstration, putting a face to the dire housing needs in Iqaluit which I think the Nunavut Housing Corp. and its board of directors need to understand.”

For the last four years, the family has been living with friends, family and acquaintances “until they get sick of us,” Tagalik said.

While they contribute financially with rent, around $800 a month, they also are expected to buy groceries and other things for the people they live with.

Ashoona pays almost $1,000 every two weeks on rent, bills and groceries to the people they couch-surf with. But the rooms they rented were always temporary and cramped with her partner and kids.

Sometimes friends and family have asked for groceries, taken their money and then kicked them out, they say. Others used their belongings without asking.

“When couch surfing, if someone wants to wear my amauti, they just take my amauti,” Ashoona said.

Often when they stayed with kinder friends and family, soon someone else they know would move to the city needing a place, and they would have to leave to make room for them.

People help you out for a week or two, then think that you owe them forever, Ashoona said.

One person took rent money from them for a month and then treated them disrespectfully for the last three weeks of their stay, trying to force them to leave, but refusing to give their money back, she said.

They have lost nearly all of their possessions in the last four years. What they have in their tent—mostly bedding, clothes and a Coleman stove—is all they own.

“We are not uneducated. We do not have huge debt with public housing. We are able to work. We can get private housing. We can get everything that we need for our family to sustain ourselves,” said Tagalik.

“But in Nunavut we are not given that opportunity.”

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story stated that MLA Adam Lightstone said that the premier’s office would talk to the health minister about expediting the process of providing Ashoona with staff housing. In fact, Lightstone said the conversation would be about expediting the process of converting Ashoona’s job status.

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(44) Comments:

#1. Posted by Mike Penner on September 27, 2018

I would encourage Ms. Ashoona to file a grievance respecting her continuous casual employment.  Article 51 of the Collective Agreement is specifically designed to address that issue.

#2. Posted by OnlySome on September 27, 2018

The casual situation is to keep local people from not getting GN housing - local housing does not help if they come from a specific community nothing is ever transparent making things hard to track down so people can complain to no where which is what Noneofit is right?

#3. Posted by Fred on September 27, 2018

Someone should look into how many Inuit are in the same position with the GN, that being working for years and years on casual contracts 4 months at a time. The GN must do this as way to not offer them housing or other benefits that full time employees get.

It is absurd!

Here is a good access to information request for the media to follow up on!

#4. Posted by Labour Mobility on September 27, 2018

When I was a young man I worked very hard also, went to college and university and when I was done was totally broke. I could barely afford a bus ticket to move for work, but still managed to find a way there. 

So, I moved around, hundreds, eventually thousands of miles from home and in time found a good career and was able to earn a good living and now have a good home.

On the other hand, I know people who never left my home town, some did well, some were never quite able to find a good career. I don’t know why they stayed. Oh well, we all make our choices.

Maybe this young couple should consider doing the same?

#5. Posted by Listen to Mike Penner on September 27, 2018

I strongly encourage Ms. Ashoona to follow Mike Penner’s advice and file a grievance.  Much respect to this family on how they are handling this deplorable situation.

#6. Posted by Nunavummiut on September 27, 2018

I applaud this couple to come forward with this issue. They are only one of many many families, single men, single women with this issue. I’ve had my uncle at one point live with me, a single man in his mid 40’s and mentally ill. I have a child and a single mother, but I could not put him out on the streets. Some days I feared for our safety. That created a lot of tension, unease, resentment.

More definitely needs to be done. I also agree about the department of health employing casuals and relief employees to cover their admin staff in that manner, casuals and relief only. It’s not fair to the employees. The fact that it needed to come to this for them to be considered with “staff housing” I encourage all of the government of Nunavut casuals to do the same. If they can make an exception for this family (don’t get me wrong I’m happy for them), they should be doing the same for all the others across the territory.

#7. Posted by MA on September 27, 2018

I hope they got something out of this. The GN ask their people to get educated and it’ll help you get a job in the GN but, unfortunately it seems there are cases like this couple who aren’t given this chance. If the GN encourages Inuit to get an education and pursuit a job, there seems to be a disconnect in making this happen. Why aren’t the staffing needs being met? Are there barriers in the GN for making this happen?

I hope for the best for this family.

And for number #4 comment; it’s easier said then done to move. Especially if you’re culture and identity is in the north - to feel comfortable and confident around your own people is something difficult to find outside of your home territory.

#8. Posted by Broken Record on September 27, 2018

#5 (aka #1) Yes, we heard you the first time.

#9. Posted by Broken Record on September 27, 2018

#7 There was nothing easy about that experience at all.

That said, there are millions of people around the globe who have done the same, and many who have had it even harder.

For example, how many Filipino people have moved to Canada, and to Nunavut to make a living for themselves? I never hear them complain about having to leave home. This is just the reality of the global marketplace. You go where the jobs and opportunities are.

The expectation that local job and housing markets will always be favourable is unrealistic.

#10. Posted by Glen on September 27, 2018

This is actually a huge problem with being a casual for more than two years in the GN, if you look at the number of people on casual for years you will see majority of them are from Nunavut. They lose out on housing and other benefits while someone who never lived in Nunavut will be hired and receive full benefits and employment. Something not right there, been happening for far too long.
This young lady has been on casual hire for a long time and can’t receive housing, and there are housing available in Iqaluit, units sitting empty. Things need to change, is the GN following its own rules and procedures? How long can an employee be on casual?

#11. Posted by GNer on September 27, 2018

#8 don’t get so defensive! More people in this position need to know they can do this and file grievance. Powers that be have been taking advantage of people and having them on continuous casual positions.

File those grievances. Also MLAs take note of this, help make the changes needed.

#12. Posted by Fred Penner on September 27, 2018

I agree with Mike Penner, filing a grievance is in order here. All the best to the family in these difficult times.

#13. Posted by Jean Guy Degrasse on September 27, 2018

4 years ago my grand child Anita Kilabuk Degrasse was told to stay in the tent so she could be eligible to have housing she had 4 of my great grands child she my grand child of my daughter Diane Degrasse whom she was born in Iqaluit leaving in Winnipeg now i ask Monica Ell to look what she could do about it nothing happen so she have to leave Iqaluit Nunavut to stay with her mother why this have to happen and for to many other lot of money is spend there for nothing get some affordable housing for the people leaving there so they not have to leave there place Nunavut

#14. Posted by Iqaluit on September 27, 2018

#8, yes it’s a difficult experience to move from you’re home place and it’s their prerogative to do so but, it’s also understandable for those who do want to stay in their home place.

I’m not here to compare pains and who has it more difficult because, doing so distracts the topic at hand which is this family; I hope they get assistance in their situation.

And, I applaud those who do move in order to live a better life but, what works for some doesn’t necessarily work for others. Unfortunately, it’s not a “one size fits all” type of deal.

best of luck to this family!

#15. Posted by Grievance??? on September 27, 2018

Mike Penner is a very good lawyer for many of GN employees and I trust his advice. However, in my view this is another layer for eyewash, as long a dictators like Deputy Ministers are abusing power and the Ministers follow the DM, then we are not going anywhere with that complaint. Tell me how many of the Grievance complaints are successful out come so far, everyone of them given a deal and got signed for confidential agreements. Best of Luck Brian keep doing whats best for you and your family. Health should have offered your wife long time a job, shame on them.

#16. Posted by Labour Mobility on September 27, 2018

#14 I’m definitely not interested in comparing hardships. But it’s time these discussions moved beyond the emotionally charged outrage phase we see here and towards a more honest and balanced discussion about how the world actually is.

Yes, some people chose to never leave their home. That is absolutely their prerogative. But, they will also have to live with the implications of that. In this case, with children involved, I think this decision is irresponsible.

The idea that the government can intervene and provide all the necessities of life is just not sustainable. That said, the government does need to focus on the development of a private housing market.

Above anything this has to be a major part of any real solution.

#17. Posted by Inuk on September 27, 2018

It is the same old story, different Inuk. My friend has been casual for 5 years and can’t get staff housing and doesn’t qualify for a mortgage at a bank. Even though they have been working in the same position for 5 years. I doubt they would even get a 5 year service award either. Regarding benefits; after 6 months, Casual Staff on a CSA DO receive most benefits except for 3 main benefits in my opinion:

1. No staff housing
2. Ineligible to qualify for a mortgage
3. Job Security past a 4 month CSA
(Relief staff is different story..)

I do understand why a grievance hasn’t been filed, they love what they do, who they work with, don’t want to rock the boat since they still have money to feed their family, I get it. But the GN says direct appointments don’t exist anymore but they do! It is only reserved for the select few in the center of the universe, Iqaluit. The sad reality of Nunavut is headquarters doesn’t give a rats ass about most casual staff especially those in the rest of NU.

#18. Posted by Nunavummiutaq on September 27, 2018

This problem is not just in Iqaluit, it’s all over Nunavut. There are a lot of homelessness in smaller communities, too

#19. Posted by Housing is a right on September 27, 2018

Affordable housing is a human right.

Unlike #16, I don’t think were saying that the government should “provide all the necessities of life.”

But, a roof over heads, yes. The government should provide that for people who cannot afford it, even at the most basic level. Especially where children are concerned.

The underlying issue in Iqaluit is that we simply do not have enough housing. We need to pressure the federal government to help incentivize or build more housing.

Canada is a very rich country. Unfortunately, we are a small group of voters without a lot of economic influence to lobby feds and politicians.

I’m tired of people saying people should move south. No they should not have to leave Nunavut. The federal government decided to colonize Inuit and claim sovereignty. So. Now they need to treat Inuit as full Canadians and help us to bring our infrastructure up to par with other areas in Canada. Be a voice for Nunavummiut not a drag!

#20. Posted by Non Sequitur on September 27, 2018

Quick question.
Why is it someone else’s responsibility to provide housing to these people?

#21. Posted by Same Story on September 27, 2018

It’s time this Public Housing nonsense stops. Enough already. Clearly the system is not working & getting worse. Time to find a NEW solution. Wouldn’t it be nice if the government put out a massive contract to build a bajillion houses all across Nunavut to be sold at a minimal price (like $100,000) for people to get into homeownership. It would actually save NHC because they wouldn’t be burdened with the maintenance and managing. To qualify to get a house you have to go through a training program on home maintenance and one person in the household must hold a job for 6 months. NHC would provide the downpayment so to transition all you have to do is pay the small mortgage monthly. The government would obviously have to subsidize the initial building cost but at least they’re not free. It would mess up the private market bad, but it would get people into homes, and lack of housing is a main root of so many problems. So screw the market, peoples lives are more important.

#22. Posted by Inuk on September 27, 2018

#20 Non Sequitur

Let me educate you a little on the Government of Nunavut and the current housing crisis in our territory. The GN has empty GN units right now that they can lease and make money off of, yet a large number of the workforce (predominantly Inuit) cannot obtain housing (see my previous post #17). As a full time GN Employee you have the privilege of being able to apply for staff housing, but those who are casual cannot.

The CSA (Casual) system is currently being misused by the GN, instead of hiring full time staff they keep people on endless CSA’s. When a person has been casual for many years, this means there is a demand for this position yet the higher ups aren’t willing to put this job out for competition or to willing to direct appoint a casual employee. So they keep these casuals on 4 month contract and no job security or ability to purchase their own home for years on end leaving them to couch surf; when the GN can easily make a difference to the housing problem.

#23. Posted by Hummmmm! on September 27, 2018

When do social issues such as housing become a staffing issue?

#24. Posted by Non Sequitur on September 27, 2018

I still don’t see why it’s the governments responsibility to make sure this family has a home.
If you want a place to live you buy, rent, build your own, or find a job that supplies one.
Where does personal responsibility begin? Is it fair that this family expects every single tax payer to shoulder the burden of their living arrangements? Is it fair that money allocated to other needs such as medical care or education be diverted to this case?
Why are these parents endangering their children camping outside at the beginning of winter?
If we give them a house are we also responsible to provide them with cable TV, steak for dinner, a twelve pack of beer at the end of the week?

#25. Posted by GNer on September 27, 2018

When the GN takes advantage of it’s employee’s by keeping them on casual for years, that’s when.

Rolls eyes!

#26. Posted by Christopher on September 28, 2018

My grandmother left a war torn country in the late 40s and moved to canada with no money in her pocket in the search of a better life. Same with my grandfather. Thousands of miles over the ocean. people do it every day. I would never put my 18 month daughter through this and have her live on a tent in the cold. If my workplace is not giving me full time permanent employment i would find a new employer wherever that is. Keep the steam engine going and my family warm and fed

#27. Posted by No Moniker on September 28, 2018

#20 Non-Sequitur, good question, sadly the only response was a strawman.

#22 – Good points. It would be informative to see statistics on dormant GN units vs. positions locked in the CSA and RESA trap. Would this make a significant difference? I’m not sure, either way the GN can’t promise housing it doesn’t have, indeterminant contract or not.

#19 As I’m sure you know the language of human rights is often embedded in moral & aspirational conceptions of how the world should be, as in this case, these are not always legally binding nor practically possible—of course governments are loath to participate in philosophical discussions around this and are sadly trapped into reciting platitudes for similar practical reasons.

Also, you say “I’m tired of people saying people should move south. No they should not have to leave Nunavut”.

Why not?

If I said no one should have to leave town and head toward the caribou for fresh tuktu, you’d say I was an idiot, and you’d be right!

#28. Posted by Tsa on September 28, 2018

That is what nunavut good at.  Wait for everything’s bad, and then try to make good.

#29. Posted by whoareyyou on September 28, 2018

Union was handpicked most of the managers were hand picked so stuff in the background could work wonders but for only a few and had to be from a part of Canada that is not part of Nunavut

#30. Posted by Be Real on September 28, 2018

The social housing policy is the way it is for a reason. Just because they pitch a tent doesn’t mean they should jump the cue over other families who are also deserving of housing. As he said, they are educated. Why not look for other employment with higher pay or housing? There are some people who have exhausted all of their options because of their own behaviors. There are three sides to every story, I really wish he was not setting in his child’s mind that this could be happening for the simple fact they are aboriginal (quoted from CBC). We should not be teaching our children at a young age that they are less than or on the other end of it entitled because of our race.

#31. Posted by hahaha on September 28, 2018

There were complaints put forth before but only few was public so it was all whitewashed who was the MLA who stood up for these people maybe they were just a post a stick so many can think that it is looked at

#32. Posted by iThink on September 28, 2018

#25 Your answer presupposes that housing is and should inherently be tied to a job. So, you haven’t answered the question.

#19 You say the government of Canada should bring our infrastructure up to par with the rest of the country, but the government of Canada did not build housing for the rest of the country, Canadians did it themselves. In fact much of the infrastructure in the ‘south’ was built by industry itself and took decades, even centuries.

Granted, the conditions and history of Nunavut are much different. Still a system where government builds and maintains everyone’s home is not sustainable.

We need to think outside this box. In my opinion what we really need is a market for private ownership.

#33. Posted by Csa's on September 28, 2018

Many people are kept casual because they would not screen in if the position was put into competition. There’s an educational component that needs to be met to obtain many of the indeterminate positions. If these positions go into competition and the CSA employee cannot meet the screening criteria they have no job.

Get the education!! It is so important.

Getting funding for music videos instead of focusing on housing is another sure way to perpetuate a bad situation.

#34. Posted by Cambay on September 28, 2018

Be careful of filing your grievance.  Once its filed you see that oops you are no longer needed and your next csa doesn’t get renewed.  Seen it to many times.  Thats why they stay as casuals.  Easiest way to get rid of people if you dont dance when told to like a little puppet.

#35. Posted by GNer on September 28, 2018

This lady has been on casual for more than a year, if the GN makes her job full time then she can get one of the empty units sitting there. Why are you against people be able to get housing? What’s your problem with that?

#36. Posted by Harry on September 28, 2018

She has the education for the job and she has been doing the job for a long time, she can be appointed the position but that would pay her more with benefits such as housing, GN has been screwing people like this for far too long, time for changes!

#37. Posted by Iqaluit resident on September 28, 2018

Even if you do get hired as a full time employee, you still go on another waiting list with the GN housing, My friend who has worked over 15 years with the GN has been waiting for “staff housing” for the last 6 years now!

#38. Posted by But... on September 28, 2018

#36 Not all indeterminant jobs automatically come with housing.

#39. Posted by Strike it! on September 28, 2018

GN has way too many casuals, relief and term employees.  They should go on strike and get their own collective agreement.  Without them, the GN couldn’t do business as usual.

#40. Posted by Former Insider on September 28, 2018

Last I read, there were about 1,000 vacant housing units in Iqaluit, some in need of repair, others too damaged to justify repairing them.

The report I read did not say how many were in “move-in” condition. Does anyone know who is not prevented from speaking due to “confidentiality”?

#41. Posted by Aqsarnirq on September 28, 2018

Why can’t TEMPORARY HOUSING be looked into?...Use TRAILERS/MODIFIED SEACANS!...Way better than a TENT/SHACK!

#42. Posted by Rolled Together on September 29, 2018

#35 I don’t think anyone here is opposed to that idea.

I believe the critical voices here are addressing more general themes, and at a broader level those are important to discuss.

#43. Posted by shameful! on September 29, 2018

“I started at the front desk at the Baffin Regional Hospital, then it turned into QGH and I worked at the front desk again. I moved between the medical office and the front desk for 15 years,” Ashoona said. “They just kept renewing my contract for a four-month term.” - OMG…She has been on a CSA for 15 years?!?!??! She should have been made Indeterminate a long time ago!!” This is shameful!!!!! Good for Brian and Pitsiula for sticking up for themselves. It’s heartbreaking that it took 2 young children living in a tent to get people’s help and attention! Empty GN Staff Housing when people are living out in the cold WITH YOUNG CHILDREN homeless -SAD,  SHAMEFUL & UNACCEPTABLE!

#44. Posted by Good advice. Iqaluit. on September 30, 2018

People have to pay their rent. Find the proper rate through income and
family size. The Housing office can provide this.
Causing damages to houses means you have to pay for them.
If anyone is charging you money for staying at their Public Housing
unit, report them to housing, as it is illegal.
Housing could do more if people comply.
I would like to hear more from Housing Managers in the communities ?
Holy Hesus is no one in charge.

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