Iqaluit homeless men’s shelter may shut down

GN scrambles to keep roof over the heads of residents


Hunter Tootoo’s office is scrambling for emergency funds to keep Iqaluit’s Oqota men’s shelter open after June 30, when the Salvation Army withdraws its services.

Otherwise, the shelter’s 18 to 20 regular residents may find themselves absolutely homeless, instead of having a warm, dry bunk bed in one of three rooms housing half a dozen or so men each.

At least three of those men are community elders. Many deal with mental illness or addiction issues.

The SA has run the Oqota shelter for several years, but Major Fred Waters, area commander for the Salvation Army’s Prairie and Northern Territories Division, said he had given the government and the landlord notice that they will have to close it and terminate the lease by the end of this month.

While declining to give figures, Waters told Nunatsiaq News the shelter is in a position of “unmanageable deficit.”

Shelter director Douglas Cox said Waters told him the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Appeal contributes about $100,000 a year to the operation, with the rest coming through the GN, federal funding through Service Canada administered by the city, and some direct donations.

Waters told him the SA was in a $300,000 deficit position by June over the shelter, and could not continue to carry it.

Tootoo, Nunavut’s minister responsible for dealing with homelessness, confirmed the ongoing efforts to keep the shelter open, including continuing discussions with the SA, but at press-time his office was unable to confirm the GN will be successful.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can to find a solution to keep the shelter open,” said a spokesperson for his office. “We’re going through every funding opportunity.”

But the future still hangs in the balance.

“It’s safe to say we’d like to keep the shelter open,” Tootoo said earlier, “but what’s the best way to provide the service is something we still need to determine.”

He said the GN has already supported the shelter this year to the tune of $290,000, an increase of $130,000 or 80 per cent over last year’s share of $160,000.

Waters said this is not the first time he has told the GN there has to be a change in the funding situation for the shelter, “or else.”

But this time it has actually come to the “or else” stage.

At press-time, Cox was busy trying to prepare a minimal contingency budget for the GN to carry the shelter over for the next four months.

In his year as shelter director, Cox said he has shaved thousands of dollars off staff costs, and hundreds off the phone bill.

But, “realistically, if we start over we could definitely do it cheaper.”

He said the shelter does not operate with any spending luxuries in its budget. But it does have to pay $10,200 a month rent for the building in the old Lower Base area of town, which he considers exorbitant.

The landlord is a private company known simply as Building 1057 Ltd. (which is not the shelter address.)

Cox also thinks he might be able to shave staff costs further with the judicious use of community-service volunteers.

“The ultimate goal for me has been to work myself out of a job,” he said. “But this is not how I wanted to do it.”

“We don’t close shelters. We just don’t,” Waters said, noting the unusually desperate nature of the situation.

He said that with the current economic climate, the Salvation Army is seeing an increased demand on its resources right across the country.

The organization returns 88 cents for every dollar the Red Shield Appeal receives on direct assistance to the homeless, the mentally challenged and victims of drugs and alcohol addiction, he said.

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