Iqaluit couple pitches tent in protest of invisible homelessness

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After four years without a home, Brian Tagalik and Pitsiulaaq Ashoona pitched their tent outside of the Nunavut legislative assembly to bring awareness to invisible homelessness in Iqaluit.

“It will give the public outcry that people need to realize the true scope of housing in Nunavut,” said Tagalik.

The two are common-law partners and are now sleeping outside with their two children, ages one and seven, until their situation is remedied.

Homelessness has imposed an unpredictability that controls their everyday lives, said Ashoona as she sat in the legislative assembly after a meeting with ministers and MLAs.

Ashoona has worked with the Government of Nunavut (GN) for nearly 15 years in casual and relief positions in the Department of Health with no offer for an indeterminate position and the accompanying housing security.

Lower positions, including her job as a medical records clerk, don’t come with housing.

Tagalik completed college, and Ashoona finished her first year of nursing before taking a job with the GN.

Brian Tagalik and Pitsiulaaq Ashoona pitched a tent outside of the Nunavut legislative assembly to bring light to their chronic, invisible homelessness. Avery Zingel/NNSL photo.
Brian Tagalik and Pitsiulaaq Ashoona pitched a tent outside of the Nunavut legislative assembly to bring light to their chronic, invisible homelessness. Avery Zingel/NNSL photo.

“Once you’re done your program, if you don’t get an (indeterminate) government job, there are no outlets for you to receive any employment that comes with housing,” said Tagalik.

The two found themselves homeless and couch-surfing with family and friends. That has become untenable and made it even more difficult for Ashoona to get a full-time position.

Being kicked out or having a rough sleep because of a rowdy homeowner can turn the next day into a write-off, she said, as her 18-month-old child poked her head outside of her amauti.

“If we’re put out in the middle of the night, we have to pack all our things and find a place to stay,” said Ashoona. “If we’re kept up all night and barely had any sleep, I’ll miss work in the morning.”

Ashoona has “amazingly” kept her casual employment, despite the unpredictability, said Tagalik.

As winter sets in, the family has moved their belongings into the tent, where they plan to stay until there is a resolution to their homelessness.

Shelter spaces, though available, would force the family to split up. Ashoona could not go to the women’s shelter because she has employment with the government, and while the Qimaavik women’s shelter would take in Ashoona and the children, Tagalik would be forced to a different location, he said.

“I’ve slept in cars, I’ve slept in shacks. You name it, anywhere to get my head down or my family a peaceful sleep, we’ve done it,” he said.

Sometimes the unstable environment housing means their eldest daughter doesn’t go to school, he said.

“Even when we were couch-surfing, sometimes we’ll get up dog-tired and only have a handful of hours of sleep. It’s tiring and very difficult to have a routine when you don’t even have a place to sleep at night,” he said.

“This is the perfect example. We’re halfway through the week and my daughter hasn’t been to school once because we’re sleeping in a tent and trying to get people to see what Inuit are living through.”

On Wednesday morning, Tagalik and Ashoona met with Nunavut Housing Corporation president Terry Audla, Health Minister Pat Angnakak, Family Services Minister Elisapee Sheutiapik and MLA Adam Lightstone.

During the meeting, they discussed solutions for the family’s housing situation.

They were also invited to the Iqaluit Housing Authority meeting Wednesday. This year, 10 units of public housing are coming available. The family hopes one will be available for them.

The family first added their names to the waitlist four years ago, including a period of nine months during which they were off the list.

“There are families in small communities who wait five to 10 years for a unit,” she said.

“The realities are that across the territory we’re in a housing crisis,” Audla said, “so we need to catch up to the need at least 3,500 units. That’s huge in this territory.”

The private market is “unattainable” and most Nunavummiut don’t have access to diverse housing options, he said.

“Here in Nunavut it’s public housing, or hopefully a government job,” said Audla.

Two years ago the federal government announced $240-million over 10 years, which would allow for the construction of 40 public housing units per year.

Currently, they are building 100 yer year, but Audla anticipates it could take up to 60 years at current funding levels to build the number of units needed.

For those without adequate housing, Audla recommends filling out an application to give a “truer number” of those in need.

“It helps us in our cause to try and leverage more money out of the federal government,” he said.