Only 100 people found homeless in Nunavut, but the rest remain hidden

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
Only 100 people found homeless in Nunavut, but the rest remain hidden

A northern Canadian territory known for the hardscrabble living conditions of its people isn't as bad off as believed, if the results of a homeless count can be trusted.

Unfortunately for Nunavut, and its 34,000 residents, it's more than likely that the count can't be trusted, or more specifically doesn't tell the whole story.

Nunatsiaq Online reports that Jeannie Ugyuk, minister of family services, told the legislative assembly on Monday that the survey discovered there were a total of 98 homeless people.

Fewer than 100 homeless people? In Nunavut, a territory wrought with poverty, economic hardship and joblessness?

According to Ugyuk, 57 people were found in Iqaluit homeless shelters and 15 others living in various desperate locations. Elsewhere in the territory, there were 11 people using shelters and 15 living in places not meant as housing.

Those numbers may be correct, but it is also unlikely they capture the essence of the territory's situation.

A Statistics Canada survey conducted in 2010 found that 49 per cent of the homes in Nunavut were overcrowded - with the median number of people living in those crowded homes being six. More than half of the territory's houses were found to use the living room as a sleeping quarters.

The survey also found that four per cent of the population, or 1,200, did not have permanent homes. These "hidden homeless" would move from house to house, staying with various friends or family for short periods of time.

The territory announced in February that it would conduct a "point-in-time homeless count" in Rankin Inlet, Iqaluit and Cambridge Bay at various times through the month in an effort to better understand the homelessness situation.

That count focused on those who visit soup kitchens, and stay at homeless shelters or "shacks, tents and other places not designed for long-term human habitation."

"We know that homelessness is a serious issue, and we need to document the true extent of homelessness in a way that includes the voice of those directly affected," Ugyuk said at the time. "Better policy and programming depend on both accurate data, and on understanding the problem from the point of view of communities."

But if the end result is a determination that the homeless population counts less than 100 people, the bigger picture may be missed.

To be fair, it doesn't seem like the government is intentionally undervaluing the issue of homelessness in the territory. They surely know the problem is much worse than that.

They have already established a long-term housing and homelessness strategy.

The framework notes, among other factors, that Nunavut drastically lags behind the rest of Canada in income, graduation rates and the number of households with food security.

Crime is higher, life expectancy is shorter and average health is worse.

The document outlined the need for more access to public housing, which is actually less expensive that putting people up at a shelter.

Last year, the federal government created the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, which included funding of $94,000 to establish housing for homeless people who have fled domestic violence. It was part of a five-year investment of $1.9 billion to help address homelessness and housing shortages.

The federal government doesn't invest $2 billion to address a homeless problem if that problem accounts for a double-digit amount of people.

The problem is larger, much larger, than 100 people. Those are just the ones we can see. The rest remain hidden.