Homeless shelter prepares for Christmas

Holds open house on Dec. 22.



There are no Christmas decorations on the outside of the blue building near Iqaluit’s breakwater. The steps have been cleared of snow and the door is slightly ajar.

Inside, Lee Smith sits behind a small desk. A large Christmas tree stands in the corner, between two couches in the shelter’s common room. Fat strands of gold tinsel adorn the shelves filled with board games on the opposite wall and red tinsel has also been placed along the back of another couch.

Not a place many might associate with Christmas cheer, the Oqota homeless shelter sports a big red bow on the inside of the front window and a wreath and Christmas card on the wall near the office.

Smith sits on the board of the Illitiit Society, which oversees the shelter. Joamie Kilabuk, the shelter’s acting executive director, sits on one of the couches near the tree.

The building is quiet right now, but by 6 p.m. it will be full. There are 12 men and two women living at the shelter. That’s full capacity, he says.

The clients have yet to start talking about Christmas, Kilabuk says, but they usually have a good time and enjoy themselves at this time of year. Some go to visit family for the day, but others stay at the shelter.

On Dec. 22, the shelter is hosting its third anniversary and Christmas open house, complete with coffee, snacks and a birthday cake donated by Baffin Island Canners Ltd. Members of the public are invited to visit the shelter, meet the residents and some of the people who run the facility.

The shelter will also host a Christmas dinner for the residents the same night. Because the shelter lacks cooking facilities, a turkey donated by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. will be cooked and brought to the shelter.

“So far, all we have is the turkey. If we can get other donations, it would be great,” Smith smiles, joining Kilabuk in the common room.

Donations from public and private businesses and private residents come as a huge help at this time of year, and Smith says anyone wishing to drop off a wrapped gift at the shelter is encouraged to do so.

“We’ve always had enough gifts to supply clients with at least one at Christmas,” Smith says. One year, a dental office donated packages of toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss to the residents, and the Toonoonik Hotel has donated personal items such as soap and deodorant.

“Candies, oranges and nuts are always nice to get, too,” he says.

Smith remembers when the shelter first gave out gifts to clients in 1999. “It caught a lot of them by surprise and got a few of them a bit teary. There were some handmade gifts,” he says, speaking slowly, seeming to recall details as each word comes out. “It affected people that they were thought of.”

Kilabuk nods his head in agreement.

“I remember one guy who was so happy to get a gift after years of not receiving a present,” he says.

Smith also remembers one specific client from the year the shelter opened. He had been diagnosed as having a serious mental illness and had spent time in jail.

He was released during the summer, Smith says, and stayed away from drugs, except the ones prescribed for his disorder.

He got a full-time job and eventually moved out of the shelter into his own apartment.

“He came here for Christmas dinner as a former resident,” Smith says. “It was sort of like icing on the cake of a really good year.”

The open house on Dec. 22 runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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