Halfway house hopes to help families of offenders
KANGIRSUK — Nunavik’s first halfway house will soon start treating not only ex-offenders, but also their families.
George Haukai, director of the halfway house, says the Quebec government has provided money to pay for the counselling of family members and partners of ex-offenders.
“Right now we don’t do any counselling, for example, with the girlfriend. If one of our clients goes back home and starts arguing again with the girlfriend, the client finds himself in the same situation as before. But if we had counselling with his girlfriend at the same time, that would make a big difference,” he says.
The halfway house is called Makitautik, meaning “a means of support.” Perched on a hill overlooking the ocean, it has housed about 35 ex-offenders since it opened in February of last year.
Seven ex-offenders are there now. Convicts who’ve been jailed for sexual assaults aren’t welcome.
“We take a short interview over the phone and then if we feel we should accept them, we accept the client,” Haukai says.
Sandy Suppa Jr., 30, says he has two days left at the house.
He came from Kuujjuaq on May 14 because of a problem he’d been having with his girlfriend. Money to bring spouses and girlfriends to Kangirsuk for counselling won’t be in place until September.
Suppa had six charges against him and was bouncing in and out of jail, he says. Then he heard there was a halfway house in this community.
“I feel better if there’s no bar in the community,” he says, sitting in the TV room of the residence.
He asked to be moved away from his home community so he could make a fresh start.
“I’ve learned a lot about hunting, and words I never said before from the elders, who’ve been here a long time. Words about hunting seals, whales, fishes, they tell me where they are, where they go,” Suppa says.
The most important thing Suppa says he’s learned is how to cope with people and how to support them when they need it. Now, he says, he’ll try to start a new life.
After he leaves the halfway house he plans to go back to work, but he worries about what will happen when he sees his girlfriend again.
The length of a client’s stay varies. Some stay only three weeks, while others remain up to six months. A few times, the house has reached its maximum capacity of 10.
“We have an out-on-the-land program where they go fishing, hunting or just camping,” Haukai says. There’s also a local elder who joins them and helps teach Inuit traditions.
“Most (clients) haven’t done very much out on the land on their own. They either don’t have a parent or father to go with, or friends to go with, so we teach them a bit of hunting or fishing techniques.”
Haukai says this makes a difference when clients return home. “Some of them try to carry on what they have learned here. Otherwise, if they had stayed in a halfway house down south, it would be different. It would be like white man’s culture.”
Residents can attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings once a week, Bible study once a week, and they can visit with two Inuit counselors who offer both one-on-one and group sessions.
Haukai says he thinks of the residents as his sons.
“This place is like a family group, we try to have it like a family,” he says, as the grandchild of the cook plays in the background.
So far this is the only halfway house in Nunavik, accepting clients from all communities in the region. Haukai says another may open on the Hudson Bay coast.
Makitautik received $325,000 from the Quebec government for this year and while there’s been talk of expansion, Haukai says there’s no firm agreement in place.