Iqaluit’s beach clean-up gets messy

Homeless couple’s belongings sent to the landfill


A homeless couple living along Iqaluit’s waterfront discovered last week that this boat they had been living in, which contained some of their belongings, had been hauled to the landfill during an annual clean-up. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)

A homeless couple living along Iqaluit’s waterfront discovered last week that this boat they had been living in, which contained some of their belongings, had been hauled to the landfill during an annual clean-up. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)

A beach clean-up along Iqaluit’s waterfront last week has left a bigger mess for a homeless couple, who had their personal belongings mistakenly taken away as trash.

The couple’s blankets, food and a cooler were among the items lost. These belongings were stowed on an old boat, which a couple was living in for months, until it was taken away on the morning of Thursday, July 18, during a clean-up by contracted Baffin Correctional Centre workers. An old tent and backpack that lay near the boat were also thrown away.

Geisa, now 18 and from Cape Dorset, said she had been living homeless on that beach area for two years since moving to Iqaluit after her mother died. She and her partner are on the social housing waiting list, she says. Some people remain on that list for years.

This stretch of the waterfront is Inuit-owned land. When contacted by Nunatsiaq News, a representative with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association said that the homeless couple’s belongings had been thrown out by accident and apologized for the mistake.

The clean-up is only supposed to involve “unwanted items that owners consent to have removed,” the QIA said.

QIA has offered to reimburse the homeless couple for their belongings. The Inuit organization says the goal of the annual clean-up is to ensure the safety of fishers and hunters who use the beach.

When QIA was initially contacted by Nunatsiaq News about this matter last week, it said that the City of Iqaluit had hired the clean-up crew.

The organization also cited a letter it received from the city, demanding that they clean up this “unsightly” stretch of waterfront by Aug. 16, or else the city would hire contractors to do the work, and send QIA the bill.

The letter cited Bylaw 714, also known as the “Unsightly Land Bylaw,” which states that “no owner or occupant shall cause or permit refuse, litter, appliances, inoperable vehicles, or construction debris to accumulate on their property unless designated as a sanitary landfill site.”

The plot of beach land in question is right next to the Coast Guard station. It is the same patch of beach where a shack fire had recently displaced another two homeless families, who now live there in a tent provided by Red Cross.

It is also the same area where, last month, another boat Geisa had been squatting in was set on fire. She says this was done by someone seeking vengeance. That fire is still considered suspicious but no longer under investigation until more witnesses come forward, the RCMP says.

The boat that was hauled away during the beach clean-up had recently been purchased by a man, who told Nunatsiaq News that all he wanted was the trailer, so he had asked QIA to take the boat to the dump for him, rather than keep it on the beach.

He did not know that a couple had been living in it.

That boat had been abandoned on the beach for months before that and the young homeless couple had been spending nights sleeping in a pile of blankets under the roofed stern.

Five other abandoned boats were also moved to the landfill.

Mayor Madeleine Redfern, whose house is about 100 feet from where the beach clean-up took place, said that homeless residents should be aware that “you are taking a risk putting your personal property in someone else’s property.”

Redfern said the QIA’s clean-up process is “very, very careful.”

“If they find out who the owner is of that boat, then they have permission to remove that item … technically, that’s lawful removal,” Redfern said.

This part of the beach has a problem with noisy partying, rowdiness and even “public defecation,” she said.

Redfern said homelessness is a problem in Iqaluit and although there are some social services currently provided and larger projects in the works, more needs to be done together.

“A tiny minority are living on the beach, but it is a problem,” Redfern said, adding that her own brother was homeless and had lived on the beach at certain times.

“It is all about safety at the end of the day.”

Since the beach is not serviced, it is not an ideal place for housing, she said.

“There are people who have come to me to say they don’t like having human feces or broken glass, they are very worried about their boat or shed being vandalized or fires. It is a gorgeous view, but it is a complicated issue, many things have to happen at the same time.”

Redfern said the city, the government, other organizations and the community need to be working on this together.

“You have to have the whole spectrum of support.”

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