'We want mom and kids to come in before the hitting starts.”

Shelter from a storm of booze and violence


RANKIN INLET – The Kataujaq Safe Shelter is empty now, but Evelyn Thordarson doesn't expect it to stay that way for long.

As mining camps in the Kivalliq shut down for the winter, Thordarson worries some workers, flush with cash, will spend much of it on booze.

And after 11 years running the shelter, Thordarson has learned booze equals more violence.

The mining jobs are great if the money goes to the family, but she said that, too often, that just doesn't happen.

"The only people who have a smile on their face are the drug dealers and the bootleggers," Thordarson said.

"If mom is getting hit by dad because dad is drinking, mom and the kids come here. [But] we want them to come before the hitting starts. The real losers are the kids."

The three-bedroom shelter is located in a blue, single-storey house not far from Rankin Inlet's arena, but behind the imposing electronically-bolted door is a sanctuary for mothers and children fleeing violence.

There's a big common room for moms to watch TV and talk, a special area for social workers to operate, and a room especially for the kids, equipped with toys and VHS movies.

But what goes on the TV in that room is closely screened, Thordarson said. No violent programs are allowed.

"When children see violence in the home, they think it's normal, they think it's how everyone lives."

While there aren't any clients currently staying at Kataujaq, the shelter is packed to the rafters with food donated by the Rankin Inlet health centre from a recent sealift order. There's so much, in fact, Thordarson is going to give some of it away to needy families in town. In the meantime, she can barely use her office since there are so many boxes of food.

"I said I'd share my office with the barge order, but I didn't know it would be like that," she said, shedding mock tears.

But that's the boom-and-bust way for a shelter that relies mostly on donations from the public, plus regular fundraising activities like bingo and an upcoming auction. The shelter nearly had to close two years ago because there were so many clients and not enough money. The demand for space is high because the shelter takes clients from the Kivalliq region, plus Sanikiluaq.

"We really had to economize things," Thordarson said.

Kataujaq also started to do sealift orders to buy supplies in bulk. And Nancy Karetak-Lindell, Nunavut's member of parliament, who's constantly travelling, pilfers soap and shampoo from the hotel rooms she stays in and sends them along to the shelter.

"That's a big savings right there," Thordarson said.

"When a client comes here we provide everything." That includes food, toiletries and costly necessities like diapers and baby wipes.

Stays at the shelter are limited to two to three weeks, compared to a maximum of six weeks at Iqaluit's Qimaavik shelter.

In the future Thordarson wants to get into the area schools to do presentations on dating violence. She sees some young men pushing around their girlfriends in high school and says that's where the cycle of violence begins.

Thordarson has seen it countless times: the girls grow up, start having children and settle in. They figure their man is going to settle in too, and stop hitting them. Often, that never happens, and eventually the women end up at Kataujaq.

"Eventually they get it," Thordarson said.

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