Housing is Nunavut’s weakest link
“Will I find employment with housing quickly enough after I graduate, or will I end up like my younger sister, moving south simply to find a decent place to live?”
Updated July 3, 11 a.m.
My name is Marley Angugatsiaq Dunkers and I am a Finnish-Inuk. In my 27 years I have lived in all three regions of Nunavut and have called Iqaluit home for the last 10 years. I lost my father at the age of 16, and my mother at 23. This makes me an iliarjuk—an orphan—and places me among the fragile homeless of Nunavut.
I am currently entering into the final year of the Nunavut Law Program. While the program is in session and during the summer, I have student housing. Family members and friends welcome me into their homes when I am not able to stay in student housing during the Christmas holidays. Having no home since my parents died puts significant stressors on me.
As I try to focus on my studies, I consider my future after graduation. I reassure myself that I have a plethora of opportunities when I complete my program.
Will I really? What options will be open to me for reliable housing so that I can make the professional commitments I need to advance my career? Will I find employment with housing quickly enough after I graduate, or will I end up like my younger sister, moving south simply to find a decent place to live?
Even major employers in Nunavut have gaps in their housing resources. I worked for the Government of Nunavut before entering the Nunavut Law Program. I never secured housing or an indeterminate job, nor was I offered educational leave as I was a casual employee.
I don’t think I can point to one person whose fault that would be. Nor do I think it would be helpful to point the finger. I do know that Inuit represent 50 per cent of GN employees and only hold 25 per cent of the allocated GN units. In 2018, 148 Inuit in higher-earning professional, management or executive roles received staff housing through the GN, but 855 non-Inuit in those same categories benefited from that privilege.
Picture in your mind a business pyramid for the Government of Nunavut. At the base would be entry-level jobs like administrative assistants. Many of these jobs are held by Inuit—and many do not “qualify” to receive housing with their employment. The higher you go up the pyramid, into positions such as managers, directors and deputy ministers, the more non-Inuit you will find and the greater a likelihood that those positions will be allocated housing, whether they are transient professionals or long-time residents of Nunavut.
Is resourcing and subsidizing the best-paid positions really the best use of the GN’s housing money? With “management” salaries easily over $100,000, senior officials can afford to buy from the already limited available private housing in Nunavut, and yet they benefit the most from the subsidies they receive.
Are we developing policy and thinking about youth and people with a desire to transition, with the insecurity of years of couch surfing, with the hard work of getting an education in Nunavut or in the south, and then looking for options to start careers? Who writes the GN and Nunavut Housing Corp.’s housing policies and who do these policies serve? With such a lopsided internal set of priorities, how can we work for the best for the whole territory?
Nunavut faces overcrowded housing, lack of housing, over-expensive housing, mouldy housing, yet those who are making decisions seem very distant from people—even people they know and work with—who face issues similar to mine.
For those who know me, or first meet me, they would say that I look well put together, I am following the rules and moving forward. I do not fit the stereotype of what a homeless person looks like. Homelessness runs very deep in Nunavut, and once misfortune or a misstep causes you to lose your toehold in the Nunavut housing scene, there are very few ways to clamber back to security and safety.
If we as Nunavut want to take action and make a difference, we must listen to those less fortunate than we are. We must help uplift them and ensure that we build a territory where we all have fair access to enjoy the basics—including a safe place to live.
As a community, we are only as strong as the weakest link, and housing is clearly our weakest link. It impacts health, education and personal capacity through the generations. Nunavut’s solutions will only come from listening to the most vulnerable in our community and focusing on the people we are here to serve, rather than using resources for the decision-makers, or making decisions on behalf of whoever officialdom imagines the homeless to be.
We need to be both realistic and empathetic, developing housing options that are practical to the entire spectrum of homelessness all around us.
Marley Angugatsiaq Dunkers is a Nunavut Law Program student in Iqaluit.
This article was updated to clarify that the author has student housing during the summer, but not during the Christmas holidays.