Plight of Inuit healing centre in Ottawa highlights North's lack of mental health care
'Where are people going to go, out on the street?' asks Nunavut Tunngavik vice-president
News that an Inuit healing centre in Ottawa plans to close its doors because of a lack of federal funding has some thinking about the dire shortage of mental health and addiction services for Inuit, particularly in Nunavut.
Last week Tungasuvvingat Inuit, the organization that runs Mamisarvik Healing Centre, announced it will shut down the treatment facility unless it secures $1 million in annual funding by the end of March.
Their core federal funding dried up in 2013 when the Harper government declined to renew funding to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. The foundation was created to address the legacy of physical and sexual abuse suffered in Canada's residential school system.
'I started loving myself more'
"It changed things for me dramatically," says Levi Nowdlak, a survivor of sexual abuse who was a client of the Mamisarvik Healing Centre as a teenager.
Nowdlak says in addition to keeping Mamisarvik open in Ottawa, it would help if Nunavut had its own healing centre.
"It would be closer to home and more people would be willing to go to the centre I think if it was run in Iqaluit."
A single treatment facility for all Inuit
"We don't have anything at all here in Nunavut," says James Eetoolook, vice-president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., pointing to reports from the RCMP in the territory on how a majority of the calls they receive are related to alcohol abuse.
"Where are people going to go, out on the street? We have lots of people on the street right now homeless with addictions."
The Canadian government has fallen short on the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations to fund more healing and treatment centres, Eetoolook says.
Jason Leblanc, the executive director of Tungasuvvingat Inuit, the group that runs Mamisarvik, agrees that more mental health and addiction centres are needed in the North.
"We support the idea that there would be treatment centres in communities within the territory," said Leblanc.
"In a perfect situation the continuum of care offers choices to people that they can get the help they need in the way that's most appropriate for them, some cases in community and some cases out of community."
Obed says considering the amount of concern about mental health there should be similar facilities in Inuit regions beside the one in Kuujjuaq.
Obed says it isn't just Mamisarvik that was hurt by the shutting down of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, other community-based Inuit-specific mental health service providers across the four Inuit regions were also forced to shut down.
"I do think that there needs to be a central investment which is then supported by provinces and territories," says Obed.
"This federal government provides me hope that that will happen, but we are a long way from that reality."
'Pay-as-you-go' model not working
Leblanc said it's hard for Mamisarvik to get reliable federal funding because it's not located in the Inuit homeland. For the past three years Tungasuvvingat Inuit has been cobbling together money from various contracts to keep the centre running.
"We cut some of our cost, we redesigned some elements of the program, and we had some great support from some partners who were willing to, on a per diem basis, send clients and pay for those clients," Leblanc says.
The clients include the Government of Nunavut and Correctional Services Canada.
The Nunavut government is Mamisarvik's biggest client. They send approximately 60 people to the centre each year, Leblanc says. For an eight-week, 53-day residential program, which includes group and personal counselling and programming, the government pays $22,260 per person.
Leblanc said over 700 Inuit have taken part in the residential program since 2003 with a majority of them coming from Nunavut.
Corrections 'sad to see it go'
Correctional Services Canada uses the facility and programs for Inuit offenders at a rate of $323.23 a day. They also use four beds at the centre for residency purposes at a cost of up to $473,208 annually.
"We'll be very sad to see that healing centre go," said Kyle Lawlor, the regional communications manager for Correctional Services Canada.
"We do find these types of programs for our aboriginal and Inuit offenders very, very useful," Lawlor said.
According to Correctional Services Canada, there were 85 Inuit offenders in the Ontario region as of January 31.
Despite these partnerships, without renewed core funding, Mamisarvik will have to close down.
"Unfortunately the model of pay-as-you-go just isn't financially sustainable," said Leblanc.
CBC contacted the Government of Nunavut for comment but the government did not respond.