Iqaluit men’s shelter moving in new direction
“It is more than just a shelter … it is the getting the clientele back into work, back into their rightful place in the community”
The men’s shelter in Iqaluit is making some big changes this summer.
With the appointment of a new acting director, Dan Laffin, two weeks ago, the Uquutaq men’s shelter wants to teach its clients how to begin living independently.
“If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a night. Teach him how to fish, he eats for life,” Laffin said in an interview in his new office. “That is really the direction we want to go because right now we are just giving them the fish every day.”
Already, the shelter has done away with the plexiglass at the front desk, which Laffin found created a barrier between the staff and clients.
They are setting up extra bunk beds. And they are doing away with some routines Laffin says were redundant, like head counts every half hour and signing in a visitor in three different logbooks, to free up more time to interact with the men.
Pride sometimes stops clients from asking for what they need, said Laffin. When he and other staff take the time to really get to know the men, it’s easier to help.
Laffin says he was surprised when he started work to learn that the men’s shelter had no job board. But he plans to change that, putting to use a wall-length bulletin board at the end of one hallway.
These smaller plans go hand-in-hand with the shelter’s larger project of doing away with the “shelter” in their name and expanding their location and the services they offer.
“We will move away from being a shelter to being four-stage transitional housing,” said Matthew Clark, Uquutaq’s secretary-treasurer.
“The focus is on stopping just giving them a shelter and a hot meal, to let’s give them what they need—to be able to transition back into public housing or market housing.”
The goal is to offer social programming like healing circles, mental health counselling, employment counselling, job training and even getting the men to cook their own meals.
This new transitional housing project will require expansion of the Iqaluit men’s shelter. That work should begin by the end of July, Clark said.
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association pledged $100,000 of conditional funding for the Uquutaq Men’s Transitional Housing project last month. The total cost of the shelter expansion is estimated to be $9.5 million.
The City of Iqaluit, QIA and the federal government are all partnering with the project, Clark said.
“There are a lot of people all coming together to make this happen,” Clark said.
QIA’s funding will be used toward the initial down payment of the building they plan to purchase, Clark said.
This new location will be renovated to provide the shelter with more than double the bed space, as well as extra rooms for programming.
“The hope is that by year’s end … we would be taking possession to move into the new building,” Clark said.
Right now, the men’s shelter is operating with just 32 beds at its location on Fred Coman Drive, even though Clark says the shelter runs significantly over capacity, usually between 50-80 men per night, but sometimes as high as 120 men in the winter.
The bunk beds are reserved for the men who have been there the longest, so most nights visitors sleep either lying or sitting upright on the six couches, four armchairs, 10 plastic sleeping mats, or just in blankets and pillows on the floor when it is busy.
The men all share one bathroom and one shower stall.
Clark and Laffin look forward to the day when all men in Iqaluit have more opportunities to take charge of their own lives, as well as a bed to sleep in.
“Under our new philosophy it is more than just a shelter―it is the programming, it is the life skills, it is the getting the clientele back into work, back into their rightful place in the community,” Clark said.