The months of February and January saw temperatures in Iqaluit drop down to -40 and -50 C, giving numerous homes and businesses frozen pipes and other temperature-related problems.
This has also affected Iqaluit’s Uquutaq Society in more ways than one. As a response to the colder weather Uquutaq started a day warming/drop-in program at its low-barrier shelter on Feb. 1 to help people warm up during the colder days. Offering food, hot beverages, board games and a place to rest if need be.
Uquutaq clients have to leave the shelter at 8 a.m. and normally they would have to stay out for the day if this program wasn’t in place. It runs Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“It’s just the comfort of home,” said Pam O’Neil, director of programming at the Uquutaq Society. She added it’s always challenging for their clients during winter.
“It’s certainly easier when the weather’s warmer. They stay pretty close to the shelter during the colder months, there’s a line-up at the door to get in,” she said.
On the night of Feb. 4, the same low-barrier shelter had to close for a few hours due to a lack of water service.
“We have labour laws we need to follow, said O’Neil. “Our staff have to access water facilities while on-shift, once you’re there you can’t leave.”
Staff on-site have to be present for the full night and the low-barrier shelter stays open for 12 hours.
“When we made the decision at about 7:30 in the evening, that we weren’t going to be able to open the shelter, we were scrambling,” she added.
They started directing the clients to Qikiqtani General Hospital, just down the street, which would be where they stayed had there not been a low-barrier shelter. However, they later found a workaround shortly before the water came back.
“By 10:30 that night we figured we can safely move people back up and still meet our requirements by labour laws and we started taxing our clients back to (building) 534,” said O’Neil, who added the water came back around 11 p.m. anyway.
“We really upset a lot of people and I understand that. It was very cold out and everyone was struggling through that. We still have to follow the law.”
Nunavut’s housing crisis continues to affect the homelessness situation in Iqaluit, said O’Neil.
“People are coming into shelters and they’re not leaving again, because there is a severe shortage of affordable housing,” she said.
According to O’Neil, transitional homes are needed to go from men or low-barrier shelters, which can help people achieve the necessary education or experience to help themselves, after that, they can move into better living arrangements.
“And they need the actual housing units for people to move into, that’s what’s lacking, that piece.”
During Iqaluit city council on Feb. 14, the Uquutaq Society asked for letters of support for its applications to the federal Rapid Housing Initiative for two of its developments in the city.
The first is to fast track development permits for its project for single room occupancy affordable housing project at the Butler building (building 803).
The second is a planned expansion of low-barrier services at 158 Nipisa, the former site of Nunavut Country Foods. Which they plan to redevelop into a three storey building which will contain a day warming program, a low barrier shelter of 40 beds, a transitional housing program with 14 beds and a commercial kitchen to feed occupants on-site.
“At the current low barrier overnight respite at building 534, we turn away 49 individuals a month looking for shelter. This coincides closely with the number of intermittent shelter users we knew would lose access to emergency shelter when we moved to new building 1077 and there were no longer (allowing) overcrowding,” said Kathleen Gomes, treasurer of the Uqauutaq Society to Iqaluit City council.
Building 534 is slated for redevelopment by the Government of Nunavut in 2024-25 and the current low barrier shelter program will be itself homeless as the Nunavut government has no plans for housing this service.
City council later had a unanimous motion to support the Uquutaq Society’s application.
People can donate to the Uquutaq Society through their website, uquutaq.org which offers people the option to donate via PayPal. They aren’t accepting any clothing donations at this time due to having an overabundance of materials, but will be opening it again in the future.