Most Nunavut homeless suffer in silence

NDP MP goes north to research homelessness



IQALUIT – Joseph Teemotee and his wife have been living in a shack on the Iqaluit beach since 1995. They have no running water and no toilet. The Teemotees are not unique, but represent one of the many facets of homelessness in Nunavut.

Teemotee spoke openly of his plight Tuesday during a discussion on housing and homelessness attended by Iqaluit MLA Hunter Tootoo and New Democratic Party MP Libby Davies.

Davies was in Iqaluit for her “Communities Tour on Housing and Homelessness.” She’s the NDP’s homelessness critic in the House of Commons.

“I can’t believe the conditions I live in now,” Teemotee said in Inuktitut to the dozen people gathered in the Igluvut building’s boardroom. “We would like to have people come visit us, but we’re looked at differently because we live in a little shack. Even among your own people, they look down on you.”

Teemotee said it’s difficult for him to get work because of his inadequate housing, and explained he and his wife face the added problem of paying damage costs from previous houses that they lived in.

The Teemotee’s predicament is compelling, but as Tootoo said, homelessness in Nunavut is not the same as in the South.
Unlike the Teeemotees, many people who are in dire need of housing aren’t willing to come forward in public.

“Homelessness tends to be invisible in Nunavut,” he said. “There aren’t people living on the street because weather does not allow them to. And, so, homelessness shows itself in the average number of people in each household.”

The average number of people per dwelling in Canada in 1996 was 2.65, but in Nunavut it was 3.93. In 1999, that figure stood at 3.84 people per dwelling in Nunavut, a figure that doesn’t take under-reporting into account.

Tootoo said overcrowding is also a serious issue, which combined with building design flaws, contributes to a variety of respiratory and communicable diseases.

In Canada, 1.7 per cent of households report an average of more than one resident per room. This compares to a whopping 25 per cent of households in Nunavut.

Iqaluit resident Elisapee Davidee echoed Tootoo’s comments, saying the issue of homelessness in the North is a unique problem and a recent one.

“There are children who are homeless and roam from house to house,” she said. “Inuit were never homeless, they cared for each other.”

It was only when the federal government grouped Inuit together in specific places that things started to go awry.

Inuit didn’t understand the white way of doing things, she said, so when things like alcohol and tobacco were introduced, many had trouble understanding it wasn’t good for them.

“The bottom line is we all want to be well and have our own housing,” she said, shifting her attention back to Teemotee.

“They have their pride.”

Davies urged those at the meeting to pressure the federal government to make housing and homelessness a priority and to bring their message to the next meeting of federal, provincial and territorial housing ministers in November.

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