Walk in my shoes, homeless woman says
No shelter for women in Iqaluit
If Palluq Chouinard had a wish, it would be to see one of Nunavut’s highly-paid, well-housed leaders live the way she’s lived for the past three and a half years: homeless, cold, hopeless and hungry.
“I would like to see the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. or one of the MLAs to be homeless for just two days, to be hungry for a day, so that you can see how we feel… whoever wants to be in my shoes, just try it,” Palluq said.
Just after lunch time this past Monday, Palluq and about 30 other women, some of them homeless, some of them people who support the homeless, marched from Nakasuk School to the Four Corners and back to draw attention to the plight of Iqaluit’s homeless women.
It’s better than suicide. That’s what Palluq, 43, contemplated after she slept in a truck for two nights last week in -30 C weather.
Being homeless is not the only torment from which she suffers. There are also the petty cruelties of the GN’s miserly social assistance system, which leave her and many others in a malnourished and demoralized state.
She had a good job in Kuujjuaq, with a form of housing, but she had to quit after injuring her foot.
When she arrived back in Iqaluit, social assistance workers told Palluq that she’s not allowed to get assistance until she’s been unemployed for two months. Even after that, they demand to see receipts for every scrap of income that the claimant earns, including child tax benefit cheques from the federal government, so the money can be clawed back from the claimant’s income.
“I’m eating less now,” Palluq says.
She also had a good job in Iqaluit once, as a housekeeper at the hospital.
But being homeless doesn’t just mean that you have nowhere to sleep. It also means you have nowhere to cook your food, nowhere to bathe, and nowhere to wash your clothes.
So she had to give up that job after her boyfriend left for the South four years ago and she became homeless. Like a lot of GN jobs, especially those that local people are likely to apply for, her hospital job did not offer housing.
Palluq’s friend, Nutara Lucassie, points out that there’s no emergency shelter for homeless women in Iqaluit. She says the recently vacated men’s shelter near the beach should be re-opened for women.
Nutara, who is not homeless herself, says she has been taking homeless people into her house for years. But she said that she lives in a smaller unit now, and doesn’t have enough room to take in all the people who need a warm place to sleep.
Palluq applied for social housing three-and-a-half years ago, but has never been offered a unit.
That’s because she’s single, which means she’s deemed to be in lesser need than someone with children.
Saati Aqpik, 43, another friend of Palluq’s, says she’s been homeless for nine years, sleeping wherever she can.
“I just keep giving them applications,” Saati says.
“You must have a pile of applications that high,” Nutara says, making a wide space with her thumb and forefinger as the three women smile and share a good laugh.
But their faces darken when they’re asked how they feel about the hundreds of outsiders, mostly non-Inuit who have moved into Iqaluit since 1999 to take high-paying, well-housed jobs with the Government of Nunavut and other employers.
During the time when many of the original people of Iqaluit sank into poverty, the hillsides and ridge tops of Tundra Valley filled up with comfortable, spacious housing units built for transient workers employed by government and quasi-government organizations.
Those well-housed people are often the same civil servants who run the Government of Nunavut that does nothing for people like Palluq and Saati. When they go to that government for help, they often end up being humiliated and bullied by ignorant southerners.
“It makes me so angry to see people get off a plane from the South and get a house right away,” Nutara says.
After she went on the radio last week to talk about her plight, Palluq says she’s been flooded with offers of help from people, including those donating money and clothes.
She says that those who want to donate to the homeless should consider how hard it is to cope with the cold, which means that boots, coats, blankets, parkas and bedding are all appreciated.
“There are a lot of homeless people who do not have proper winter clothes,” she says.