A stay of execution for Iqaluit’s Oqota homeless shelter

Baffin Regional Health Board agrees to hand over $50,000 in lump sum payment to keep shelter open for the next four months


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT — Iqaluit’s homeless shelter won’t close after all.

A series of negotiations between the Department of Health and Social Services and various agencies will allow the embattled Oqota Emergency Shelter to keep its doors open for at least three or four months or permanently, said shelter board member Bill Riddell.

Last week, the shelter appeared to be on the brink of closing when it revealed it had run out of funds to pay its employees past June 4.

But hours after Nunatsiaq News, went to press, shelter officials were told the health department had cobbled together money to keep the centre open.

“It was a hard won struggle on everyone’s part. I was very relieved,” said Bill Riddell, a board member of the Illitiit Society that runs the shelter.

“Now I don’t have to tell the clients that they have to move out and I don’t have to tell the staff that they no longer have a job,” said shelter manager Gordon Barnes.

“I’m really high on this,” he said.

A promise to stay open

The shelter still doesn’t know when or exactly how much money it will receive or by when. But right now the shelter will remain open on “a promise” Riddell said. Shelter officials were scheduled to meet with Health and Social Services Minister Ed Picco this week to discuss the details.

At a meeting last Wednesday, the health department’s assistant deputy minister Rosemary Cooper said the Baffin Regional Health and Social Services Board had agreed to give the shelter the remainder of its yearly contribution in one lump sum.

The health board, through Iqaluit Social Services, gives the shelter monthly payments worth $66,000 a year.

Riddell estimates about $50,000 of that contribution still has to come in. The shelter also expects to receive its June contribution of $4,500 from Social Services and a $2,000 donation from the Royal Canadian Legion.

Cooper is still working with other government departments and non-governmental organizations to come up with a full year of funding for the shelter, but Riddell said he believes the health board’s money can be used immediately while a core funding program is still being worked on.

“My understanding is that it will come now. That’s what we’re asking for up front to give us some breathing space,” Riddell said.

The shelter says it needs $211,000 per year to run properly. If it receives $50,000 up front from the health board, Riddell said the centre will have an extra three to four months of breathing room. If it doesn’t receive the money up front it will have to close, Riddell said. The shelter’s next pay day is June 18.

It may take a month or so, but Barnes is confident core funding will be found.

Last week a meeting was held in Iqaluit to discuss both the shelter’s financial difficulties and the issue of poverty in Nunavut.

Shelter officials now want the Nunavut government to develop a policy on poverty. The shelter also wants to form a special committee to work on the shelter’s finances and day-to-day operations.

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