Sally Ann uses donations to feed hungry, house homeless, buy medicine for the ill

Christmas money buys hope for the hopeless


Iqaluit residents donated $5,004 to the Salvation Army during the Christmas holidays, when the Christian charity set up its famous kettle campaign in Nunavut's capital for the first time.

It was more than Carol-Anne Scott with the Salvation Army expected. She plans to use some of the money to buy food for the hungry, medicine for those who can't afford it, and shelter for women and children.

But with so many people in Iqaluit who are hungry and homeless, she also says it's never enough.

Scott works as director of the Oqota emergency shelter, which takes in men who have nowhere else to go. Most nights its 20 beds are full.

On busy nights, during bad weather, men also sleep on the sofas and floor.

At least the men have beds. There is no homeless shelter for women or children. The Qimaavik women's shelter only takes in women who are fleeing abuse. That leaves a lot of homeless women ineligible.

Some can't pay rent. Others drink and have trouble abiding by Qimaavik's rules.

So they call Scott. On more than one occasion, she's rented a room in Capital Suites or a hotel for a week for homeless women with children.

Hungry people also call Scott. The food bank is only open every odd weekend, and a week is a long time to wait if your cupboards are empty.

Scott buys food to offer to hungry people during the weekends when the food bank is shut. Shelves in the storage room of the shelter are lined with Carnation milk, canned tuna, Klik, pasta and other inexpensive food – "things that fill people's bellies," she says.

Other people, who can't afford to pay for medication, also call Scott. She helps pay for that, too.

Scott pays for all this with about $50,000 provided last August by the Salvation Army's Toronto office. The money collected this Christmas in Iqaluit will be put in the same fund.

Scott also counts on generosity. She needs to: right now the shelter she helps operate has run up a deficit of $107,904.

The shelter, which employs eight people, expected to receive $210,000 from the federal government in 2007. Instead, it was given only $68,000, she said.

Funding crunches are a perennial problem for non-profits operating in Nunavut. It's certainly nothing new for the Oqota shelter. Its old operators, the Illitiit Society, went bankrupt due to funding problems.

But Scott says she isn't worried. She's in talks with the government to sort out the money problems, and she's confident no one wants to see the shelter close.

"I have faith," she says. "If this place is supposed to be, it will be."

The shelter has about a dozen regulars. It used to have 20, Scott says, before she started working at the shelter two years ago.

"They know I don't accept the nonsense of them coming in, out of control, under the influence."

When that happens she calls the cops, and they spend the night in the drunk tank. But if a drunk isn't bothering anyone, she more often bends the shelter's official zero-tolerance rules and lets them stay.

Substance abuse problems, after all, are a big reason why people become homeless to begin with.

What Scott does insist is that the men who lodge at the shelter take responsibility for their actions. Punch a hole in the wall, or break a window, and you'll be given a "cooling off" period of at least a month. And you'll be asked to do the repairs.

Most men at the shelter are good with their hands. Some are good carvers. Others hold down part-time jobs washing dishes or pumping gas. But they don't earn enough to rent an apartment in Iqaluit.

Mining may offer hope. Some men at the shelter are finding work with Baffinland Iron Mines Corp., which has set up a permanent camp at the north end of Baffin Island as it prepares to ship out a bulk ore sample this summer to smelters in Europe.

They spend a few weeks at the camp, then return to Iqaluit and bunk at the shelter. But, with the good money they're earning, Scott expects some of these men to be able to afford a place of their own soon.

She sees a big change in men who find jobs. "Their faces beam. Their self-esteem is raised. They're more enthusiastic, not as lethargic," she says.

Men in the shelter range in age from their teens to their late 60s. Some stay for a night. Others stay as long as six years.

Scott remembers one man who seemed stuck. He complained about everything, all the rules at the shelter, but never left.

Then he met a girl. Eventually he moved in with her. And one day Scott received a letter from him. He thanked her, and said he understood now why the shelter rules existed.

"He hasn't come back since. He's still out there," she says.

"That's kind of nice. We don't get many kudos. It's nice to see someone gained and benefited from it."

Most the time when Scott sees a former client when she's shopping, she doesn't say hello. That would breach client confidentiality, she says. It may embarrass him.

But if he says hello, she'll stop and talk. If he needs help, she'll have a coffee with him to talk it over.

During the winter Scott sometimes makes a chicken or beef stew at home to bring to the men at the shelter. She says the shelter could use a new microwave. The last one broke in January.

But, as much as she cares for her clients, she doesn't want the place to be too comfortable, "otherwise they may never want to leave."

Share This Story

(0) Comments