Iqaluit’s hospital no longer accepting homeless seeking shelter
“A hospital’s purpose is to provide medical care to those who need it”
Iqaluit’s Qikiqtani General Hospital is no longer allowing homeless people, or those with nowhere else to go, to spend the night in the warmth of its emergency room waiting area.
This comes after years of the hospital being used as a well-known back-up for those in Iqaluit who are too intoxicated to enter shelters, or who have fled home, or been kicked out late at night.
A memo issued at the hospital this week outlines the new rule, a security guard at the hospital said. The rule went into effect on Tuesday, when posters went up to warn people about the change.
The posters on the glass door entrance to the emergency room area read, in English, French and Inuktitut: “Access to the facility after visiting hours is permitted only for medical reasons.”
The hospital security guard said he was told the decision was made by the Department of Health.
In his line of work, though, he said he can understand why the choice was made.
As a security guard, sometimes people who go to the hospital at night are too drunk, loud, rowdy or violent, he said.
“The number of people using QGH for shelter has recently grown, and with this, the hospital has seen an increase in reported incidents,” said Dennis Stavrou, executive director of Iqaluit Health Services.
These incidents include thefts, verbal abuse of staff, wandering through the hospital, public sex acts, and domestic disputes, he said.
Those problems confirmed for the department that it is not safe for clients and staff to have people using the hospital for non-medical reasons.
“The Department of Health is taking this seriously to ensure the rights of all Nunavummiut to safe health-care services are supported and upheld. The Department of Health is required to act accordingly to manage the safety and risk issues related to having patrons residing in the hospital after hours,” Stavrou said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Family Services acknowledges there are many in Iqaluit and Nunavut who are sleeping in places not meant as shelters and who have no place to go.
“More resources are required to support their wellness and safety and to support them in taking steps away from the crisis of homelessness,” said an email from Lindsay Turner, director of poverty reduction with the Department of Family Services.
“Resources and spaces currently available in the city of Iqaluit to support individuals finding themselves homeless are stretched to their limit. All shelters in the city are full and at over-capacity and they do their very best to provide emergency shelter to as many as possible without compromising safety within the shelters as a result of overcrowding.”
One man, who has been at the Iqaluit men’s shelter this week and wishes to remain anonymous, said that most nights there are between 45 and 50 men who sleep there, despite there being only 20 beds and one small bathroom.
Government officials and service providers are working to find additional solutions within the community, according to the Department of Family Services.
The Department of Health also acknowledges that homelessness in Iqaluit is “a critical situation.”
“However, the liability and risk of having patrons use the hospital as a shelter has led to the need to prioritize the needs of clients requiring medical care. A hospital’s purpose is to provide medical care to those who need it,” said Stavrou.
“Using the hospital as a shelter poses health and safety risks to those using the facility to seek medical services, as well as to staff. The Department of Health is required to manage the safety and risk issues related to individuals residing within the hospital.”