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

Visitors to the emergency room waiting area at Iqaluit’s Qikiqtani General Hospital are now greeted by a sign forbidding those without pressing medical issues from spending the night at the medical centre. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)

By Courtney Edgar

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.

Crisis situation

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.”

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(19) Comments:

  1. Posted by Concerned Citizen on


    I appreciate that this is a difficult issue to deal with, but QGH should not be a solution for solving homelessness in Iqaluit. It’s a hospital, not a shelter. People who need emergency care after-hours should not have to worry about getting harassed or assaulted by homeless people while they wait at the ER.

  2. Posted by What if? on

    They should open up one of the school gyms at night time, after school use, to keep people out of the cold as a temporary measure. Come late, sign out a cot, leave early, sign your cot back in. It’s not ideal, but at least people would be safe and out of the cold.

    • Posted by Not Suitable on

      The problem with that is most of the homeless sleeping at the hospital are intoxicated.

  3. Posted by Gimmie Shelter on

    What is happening with the new men’s shelter?
    There were articles in 2016 about the shelter board setting up a new shelter by the old airport. Why are the men still in the decrepit old building!

  4. Posted by Observing on

    Public sex acts? Theft? Verbal abuse of our hardworking health care staff? Wandering through the hospital and posing a danger to vulnerable patients?

    People who think this kind of behaviour is normal deserve to be homeless, they do not deserve our sympathy.

    • Posted by Not quite true on

      I am not sure the timing of this decision was thought out in its entirety. This is one of the coldest weeks of the year. THIS is when we are turning away some of the most vulnerable of our community?? I understand QGH is not a shelter. But there are not enough shelter spaces and I am proud to say QGH is seen as a safe space. The street is not an option in this weather.
      Now those in need of shelter will just register and wait *inside* the emergency department, instead of in the waiting room (like they used to do before); thus making our hard working staff work even harder, and blocking beds so others have to wait longer.
      I wonder whose bright idea this was?
      I wonder if he can sleep at night knowing what he has done (in his warm, heavily subsidized GN housing unit)?

  5. Posted by General Mills on

    Gimme Shelter, the GN has no money for a new shelter building or much of anything.

    • Posted by Clarity on

      The GN has money they just dont allocate any to the homeless or mental health. The big wigs are pretty busy lining their pockets and making stupid money costing mistakes that take away from investing money in mental health

  6. Posted by JC on

    What about the churches? When I lived in Iqaluit there were at least five… I am not affiliated with religion, but don’t you think the institutions that destroyed the Inuit way of life should be more willingly responsible to shelter the people they claimed to “save”? I’m not Inuit, I do not have any intentions of making this about race, so please don’t misinterpret what I am saying. At the very least, if the place of the church is supposed to be a community under God, and people in that community are suffering, God would let them in his house – aka church. Just saying.

    I understand there are many social issues that come with the homeless crisis, but clearly the govt is unable to keep up with the need so other institutions who profit off the community need to step up, the church included. I’m sure the churches do much for the community, but this is a tangible solution that doors and blankets can put a band aid on until more permanent solutions are brought forth.

    • Posted by Church goer on

      The church allowed people to sleep in it in the past. The door was not locked. Then it was burned. It is not the churches responsibility to fill in the gaps that the GN refuses to.

    • Posted by CB on

      I agree. Churches rest empty and unused most of the week – day and night – except for mainly on Sunday. The churches and parish halls could be used for real ministering to the homeless but staff would be required to support and safeguard those in need and to provide security to the buildings. The GN and municipality should work with the churches on this. Funds are necessary.

  7. Posted by Former Insider on

    The Iqaluit International Airport would be an excellent place for homeless people to sleep because there are very few flights after 6pm. The big problem is its remoteness from the centre of town. It’s a long walk in a cold night.

    The old, yellow airport terminal does not have as much space, but it sure beats sleeping outside tonight or trading sexual favours for a place to sleep.

    The situation is only going to get worse because people are being born in Nunavut faster than housing is being built. The problem may be most obvious in Iqaluit, but it exists all across Nunavut.

    Every other problem in Nunavut is caused by, or made worse by the lack of adequate housing.

    We need some leadership on this issue.

  8. Posted by Seen It Before on

    I sympathize with the hospital workers. They should not have to work under such conditions.

    But this is the wrong answer.

    It is treating the symptom, not the cause.

    Some people needing a place to sleep will stay away, perhaps freezing to death. Other people will start injuring themselves, just so they will be admitted. The cost and impact will go up dramatically.

    This is a lose, lose, lose “solution”.

  9. Posted by Common Sense on

    The hospital is not a shelter. The library is not a shelter. Northmart is not a shelter. Maybe as more and more places stop letting homeless people use their buildings as hangouts and places to sleep the GN will be forced to step in and do something. Unfortunately in Nunavut something terrible has to happen for the GN to do something as usual. Basically a bunch of people will have to die in the cold before anything gets done. It’s not right but that’s the way it is here with everything.

  10. Posted by NTI on

    Why doesn’t NTI help homeless Inuit out? They only sit on a billion dollars.

  11. Posted by Colin on

    Why not get money for essential services out of the Nunavut Trust fund with its 1.5 BILLION dollars doing NOTHING except finance bums on seats?

  12. Posted by Tommy on

    I once had a Nunavut dream! Look at it now!

  13. Posted by Putuguk on

    The hugely ironic thing here is that Health costs us a whopping $400M a year in Nunavut – around a quarter of the entire GN budget.

    Over $11,000 per person per year which is higher than even the USA!!

    The relative size of the Health budget has been growing for like, forever.

    Perhaps soon we will have no GN economic development or culture department because we cannot afford one.

    A good fraction of those health costs are incurred because people live in poor or no housing.

    I am sure once the homeless have hypothermia, they would be admitted into the Hospital ASAP. Then they would take up hospital resources from other sick people.

    I would laugh my A$$ off if the people who have no sympathy for the homeless ended up competing with them for limited hospital bed space.

    We are all in this together, including the homeless.

    It is critical that resources be shifted from responding to the effects of homelessness to actually tackling homelessness.

    This both saves money and avoids misery.

    Nunavut needs a Housing First approach badly.

    Next election, if Housing First is not on the lips of your candidate, vote for the other guy.

  14. Posted by Putuguk for Premier on

    Putuguk please run in the next election. We need you as Premier of Nunavut.

    It is time for you, and all the others who know what changes they want in Nunavut, to prepare for the next election, and to prepare for taking action when you do get elected.

    Please use the next two years wisely, so you will be ready to do what needs to be done.

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