Search for homeless man a wake-up call for Iqaluit

People in Iqaluit, Nunavut were shocked by the living conditions for people with no fixed address when they scoured the town's old shacks and boats in the search for a missing homeless man last week.

'I was pretty awed by some spaces... especially around the beach area by the shacks'

Joe Teemotee breaks down old shipping pallets to use for fuel in his woodstove. He's spent most of the past two decades living in a shack on the beach in Iqaluit, Nunavut. (Vincent Desrosiers/CBC)
Benjamin Palluq was reported missing March 21. (Courtesy of Ron Wassink)
Iqaluit residents rallied last week to help search for a missing homeless man, and for some people, it was a shock to see how some of the city’s less fortunate residents are getting by.

“I was pretty awed by some spaces... especially around the beach area by the shacks,” said city councillor, Joanasie Akumalik. “There are some crawl spaces that people can get into. Enough for a person to get in and warm up and hide or whatever.”

Benjamin Palluq was first reported missing on March 21. The 44-year-old man is well known to anyone who spends time in the city’s downtown, as he was often seen at the NorthMart, at Baffin Gas or anywhere else that Iqalummiut gather during the day.

After RCMP released the news that he was missing, community members joined in the search, combing abandoned boats and crates and checking furnace rooms or other hiding places in homes.

Joe Teemotee knows what it’s like to live on the fringes. He’s spent the past two decades living in a shack on the beach behind the old courthouse. He breaks down old shipping pallets to burn in his stove, but it’s still cold enough that a mug of tea left out overnight is frozen by morning.

'I don't want to be influenced by anyone,' says Joe Teemotee. (Vincent Desrosiers/CBC)
​Teemotee says he can’t get into public housing due to arrears.

There’s always the men’s shelter, but Teemotee says that doesn’t interest him.

“I keep telling ministers, I keep telling doctors, I keep telling nurses, I keep telling everybody asking me that because I want to be me. I don't want to be influenced by anyone.”

Douglas Cox stops by once a week with a few groceries for Teemotee and others who live in shacks along the beach. Cox is the director of the city’s men’s shelter — a converted home with bunk style sleeping quarters and a small living space that’s closed during the day.

The kitchen area of Joe Teemotee's shack on Iqaluit's beach. (Vincent Desrosiers/CBC)
Cox suggests the city provide land for a new men's shelter with independent living units.

“We have lots of clients at the shelter with mental disabilities that would be more likely to benefit from a group home atmosphere as opposed to being kicked out every day at 8:30 and come back at 5."

In 2010, a territory-wide count pegged the homeless population at four percent. That includes people who are living in shelters, shacks or overcrowded housing. 

The Nunavut government released a homelessness strategy last spring and the city has started work on its own strategy. 

Akumalik has his owns views on what that strategy should include.

“We're never going to solve homelessness. There's always going to be homeless people. So I think the first thing is to ask what do they want. What do they need, what are the basic needs they would be satisfied with?”

The search didn't turn up Benjamin Palluq. 

After concluding a door-to-door search earlier this week, RCMP renewed a call for tips from the public.