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No man left behind: Nunavut's first-ever transitional housing set to open in Iqaluit

With the final piece in place, the Uquutaq Society is moving forward with its plan to vastly expand its offering for homeless men in Iqaluit.

Buildings 1077 and 1079 in Iqaluit are now officially the future home for the Uquutaq Society's project to provide not only shelter space, but also transitional housing, affordable housing and specialized programming for homeless men.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

Executive director Laurel McCorriston said as much Sept. 24 after learning the Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) will fund its application to purchase buildings 1077 and 1079 in Iqaluit for $7.5 million.

"There's a lot of services, money, resources put towards women and children but there's really nothing for the men. And they feel like they've been left behind. This is something that's going to bring light to the men," said operations manager Erika Alexander.

Roughly 40 per cent of the homeless men who currently use the decrepit shelter in Iqaluit are between the ages of 18 and 34. They are from all over the Qikiqtaaluk region and other communities in the territory.

Read: Iqaluit men's shelter bursting at seams

"Most of the people in the shelter stay here for an average of four years. There's one guy who has been here on and off … he came when he was 16 and he's 30. That really punched me in the stomach when I found out about that. Just imagine what that would do to your life," said McCorriston.

The project to take over buildings 1077 and 1079 will see the shelter continue to house up to 60 men, but will also offer transitional housing and affordable housing. Programming, still being developed, will help lead the men through each step. Market housing will help cover costs.

This is no small feat, as Nunavut is currently the only jurisdiction in Canada without transitional housing. McCorriston says Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern was instrumental in moving the project forward.

"She submitted the CMHC application. And she raised most of those funds. This project would not be happening without Madeleine," said McCorriston.

While the building won't be ready until sometime in March, McCorriston's staff is currently helping the men conduct self-assessments.

McCorriston says the programming will be designed for the needs expressed by the men in transitional housing - for those who are ready.

"And a lot of the young men are ready already. There's an issue of how much money they make compared to the rental market," she said.

As well, the wait list for social housing is four to five years, with two and three bedroom units being built by the Nunavut Housing Corporation rather than the one-bedroom units a single man would occupy.

Asked what the men think about the project, McCorriston says they are happy about the new buildings.

"The programming, not so sure. They've never really been focused on before. When they're doing the self-assessments, they're responsive," she said.

Alexander says it's important the men share as much as possible so the staff can develop programming that's right for them.

"If you ask, do you need to go the hospital? They might say no. But you ask follow-up questions and you find out they do need to go to the hospital, they just dismiss it. So they're not self-aware of some of their own needs. So we're really focusing on the needs of the guys and trying to ensure that we cover all aspects, to ensure that they're not dismissive of their needs," Alexander said.

"It's a mixture of all of it – being left behind, no-one ever caring, no-one ever asking how they're doing."

The assessments take from 45 to 90 minutes, and include questions tailored to Inuit that aren't found in standard self-assessments, such as their place in the family or the community.

"It's also building relationships with the guys so they're more comfortable with the staff, building professional relationships and trust," said Alexander.

McCorriston says so far the approach with homeless men has been "warehousing."

"Just giving them accommodation. It's a big change for this organization and a big change for them. I think they're happy," she said.

"I know we could say I worked in transitional housing down south and I know what it is and I know what worked, and we could just do that. And we kind of get pushed by the circumstance of these new buildings and funding to try and make this program, but I keep saying let's make it the way that it's going to most benefit the guys, and it comes from the men who live here. I said that to (Iqaluit city) council my first week, and I'm sticking with it no matter what the pressures are.

"There's just too much top-down, generally speaking."

Both women, whose backgrounds are in housing, say that when you gain housing it's easier to build and maintain an independent life.

The CMHC funding is thanks to the Liberal government's National Housing Strategy Co-Investment Fund.

Other partners in the project are the Government of Nunavut's Department of Family Services, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Employment and Social Development Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, which variously contributed to the down payment or other funding needs.