Money short for new homeless shelter in Rankin Inlet

Government offers building, but no funding, to house 30 homeless people



Rankin Inlet residents are struggling to find the cash to transform an abandoned building into the community’s first homeless shelter.

Mary Irkootee, a substance abuse counsellor in Rankin Inlet, has scrounged for months to find ways of financing the project.

Irkootee gained control over the vacated airport building in the fall, when a Government of Nunavut bureaucrat agreed to donate the building.

Since then, Irkootee said she’s been lobbying unsuccessfully for money from the GN, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and other Nunavut organizations.

“It’s hopeless up here, money-wise,” she said in an interview last week. “Government people, I don’t know what they spend their money on. Don’t they care about the homeless?”

Irkootee estimates that more than 30 people are among the “invisible” homeless of Rankin Inlet. They drift around every day, looking for different places to sleep, sometimes resting their head in one of the local churches.

The community’s homeless are all ages, she said, and usually have problems with family. Many come to her for help with their alcohol and drug addictions.

Irkootee said she’s fighting to start the shelter because it’s part of her culture to help others.

Also, as a recovered alcoholic, Irkootee said she sympathizes with the hardships that many homeless face.

“I used to be a drunk,” she said. “If you’re not an alcoholic, it’s really hard to understand what it’s like. Some of these homeless people are very smart but they’ve got so lost in themselves, they feel useless.”

A shelter in Rankin Inlet could give new hope to those homeless people who want to kick their addictions. Without a place to host rehabilitation or live-in counselling, alcoholics and drug addicts currently travel to Ontario or Manitoba.

Irkootee said clients often abandon plans to enter a rehab program while waiting for airplane tickets to fly south.

Irkootee hopes having a shelter in the community will give her clients an option to get live-in therapy and counselling immediately, before they lose interest.

But without confirmed funding, it’s too early to know what services the shelter will offer.

First, the building will have to be repaired. For years, the old airport centre has sat unused beside the adult learning centre.

Peter Wollaston, a project fundraiser from the Pulaarvik Kablu Friendship Centre, said the building needs a complete overhaul in plumbing and electricity. Plus, any leftover appliances will have to be replaced.

Based on appraisals from a volunteer construction worker, Wollaston expects it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to start the shelter.

“This is something that people have talked about for years and years,” Wollaston said. “But nothing’s happened because of the scope of the project.”

Wollaston, who sits on a homeless shelter committee with Irkootee and several residents, are grappling with another complication besides money.

Hamlet council won”t let the group set up the shelter where the building currently stands. At a recent meeting, councillors made clear that they wanted to keep the prime lot for a potential Nunavut heritage centre.

Instead, they’ve offered the group a free lot downtown, between the Royal Bank and the new liquor warehouse.

Coun. Justin Merritt said the hamlet will help “any way it can,” including footing the bill for moving the building to the new location.

“We offered that we have land and we have locations,” Merritt said. “If they can find money to renovate, we can find a place for them.”

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