Former court interpreter living at homeless shelter pleads for empathy in central Labrador

Kevin Pastiwet says he was clean for a long time before deaths in his family caused him to spiral. He is now staying at the Housing Hub in Happy Valley-Goose Bay — when he can get a bed.  (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)
Kevin Pastiwet says he was clean for a long time before deaths in his family caused him to spiral. He is now staying at the Housing Hub in Happy Valley-Goose Bay — when he can get a bed. (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)

A former Innu-aimun court translator who lives at the Housing Hub says people in Happy Valley-Goose Bay need empathy and understanding to address the needs of transient people.

Kevin Pastiwet, one of an estimated 80 people who divides his time between the homeless shelter and the town's trails system, says the transient population needs help from residents.

"Instead of judging people … they should try to help in any way," said Kevin Pastiwet. "People don't know what we went through."

In recent weeks, residents have held rallies calling for increased policing to address illegal activity while long-term solutions are put in place. The provincial justice and public safety minister recently visited the town to meet with businesses and community organizations.

The Nunatsiavut government says more community support — increased policing — is needed, including a new building for the homeless shelter to help people get back on their feet.

Turning to drinking, drugs after losing hope

Pastiwet grew up in Davis Inlet before moving to Natuashish. He said he was clean and living with a common-law partner for about eight years. The two had two children and Pastiwet was working as an Innu-aimun interpreter with the court system and Legal Aid.

But when some of Pastiwet's close family members died, things changed, he said.

"[I] started losing hope and I started to get into heavy drugs, drinking," Pastiwet said. "The addiction took over in the relationship."

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

Pastiwet watched as his children were taken by provincial child services, and he lost his job and home. Now, Pastiwet said, he and his current partner live in the Housing Hub — when they can get a room. When the Hub is full, he said, they sleep out on the trails as there isn't anywhere else to go.

The Housing Hub was built for eight beds but now holds 12. The Labrador Inn is also used as an overflow for-profit shelter.

"Usually, I'm up myself just to make sure she's not cold because sometimes it is very, very cold. Just make sure she's all right and use my jacket at times," Pastiwet said. "It's hard to go through with your partner."

Addressing systemic racism and larger shelter needed: Pastiwet

Pastiwet said there were supports when he was spiralling but "the addiction was too strong." More services are needed in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, he said.

"Some of us can't get access to [services] and some of us have the language barrier and I think a lot of us are scared … to be laughed at," Pastiwet said, adding that governments need to address systemic racism in the court, justice and social services systems.

Pastiwet also said Happy Valley-Goose Bay needs a bigger facility with more help for people in need, like him.

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

"They're gonna know that somebody's there to care, caring, and I think that would take a long way to getting that self-pride back," Pastiwet said.

Pastiwet said federal, provincial and local governments also need to work with Indigenous communities and leadership to restore the connection to culture for all Indigenous peoples.

"My ancestors were nomadic people that travel on land, that travel wherever the caribou went and there was no sickness, they were healthy. There was no diabetes," Pastiwet said. "I was raised on the land with my grandparents and there were no worries there."

He said that changed when churches and governments forced them to live in specific locations, like Davis Inlet, where there was no running water or sewer.

"We need to educate our children as well through culture, because it's important," he said. "Very, very important."

Salvation Army calls for people to get off social media and help 

The Happy Valley-Goose Bay Salvation Army is one of the community organizations working to help people in the short term with meals and basic necessities.

It has received funds through Reaching Home Indigenous N.L. to operate a community needs van and have an outreach worker to help those in need on the trails. Maj. Byron Kean said more needs to be done to understand how someone becomes homeless.

"It's working with them, sitting down with them and allowing them to speak into the situation that they find themselves in," Kean said. "And it's heartbreaking when you consider it, to hear about the trauma, the addictions, the mental health issues that they're facing."

Kean said it's going to be a difficult winter if some issues aren't addressed.

"It's not putting a rant on social media. Social media to me is something that's holding us back because it's creating a situation where these individuals are being more stigmatized than they already have been," Kean said.

"It's time to get off of social media and to actually be a part of the solution," he said. "We all have a part to play."

Rafsan Faruque Jugol/CBC
Rafsan Faruque Jugol/CBC

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