Nfld. & Labrador

The 'hidden homeless' of Labrador's Inuit

A lack of available housing, existing properties that are not designed to weather a changing climate and a concept known as 'hidden homelessness,' are fueling what's being called Labrador's current housing crisis for Inuit families.

Overcrowding in homes along the coast is 4.3 times the national average

Connie Pijogge holds her daughter Jayla outside of their family rental home in Nain. With nowhere to go, Pijogge and her family will be forced to move in with relatives, or out of the community. (Kate Adach/CBC)

A triple threat of housing conditions is what some residents of Inuit communities along Labrador's coast have been facing. 

A lack of available housing — coupled with existing properties that are not designed to weather a changing climate — and a concept known as 'hidden homelessness,' fuel what's being called a housing crisis in the area.

The Nunatsiavut government defines hidden homelessness as a "large majority of 'temporary' residents in the communities of Nain and Hopedale."

We've always known that there's a housing situation in Nunatsiavut.- Sarah Leo, Nunatsiavut president

"Temporary" because families are often forced to live with other families or family members in existing homes, commonly resulting in more than a dozen people living under a single roof.

According to statistics from the Nunatsiavut government, overcrowding in homes along Labrador's coast is 4.3 times the national average.
Connie Pijogge gets emotional at the thought of having to move out of Nain in order to find a place to live and to raise her family. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Soon, Connie Pijogge and her family will fall into the definition of hidden homelessness.

Their landlord is moving back into the family home that they have been renting for sometime in Nain.

"I don't want to move from Nain, like I made it my girls' home," Pijogge said.

"My oldest is 14-years-old, she has been living in Nain for 14 years." 

Pijogge is a mother of three. Her two younger daughters are 18 and three months of age. 

Pijogge, unable to hold back her emotions, told CBC she will soon be forced to leave.

"There is nothing, we've tried everything and anything, even [moving into] abandoned homes," she said. 

Limited options

With no vacant rental properties available in Nain, Pijogge potentially faces having to move more than 150 kilometres south to Hopedale.

Pijogge works at an area daycare, and her husband is employed at the Voisey's Bay nickel mine.

Although they have two incomes, the couple still has bad credit. They are unable to purchase a home.

"We've tried looking into buying [homes], rental properties. We tried mortgages and mortgage brokers, everything," Pijogge said.

"Like the cost already of living on the coast is enough, and they expects people to go and get a mortgage or a loan."

Mouldy units

The lack of available rental homes, and the 12 or more people living in some of the units are not the only problems facing Inuit families.

For many of the units deemed still fit to live in, many are just barely fit to live in. They are covered in mould, are poorly insulated and are in need of repair.

We're seeing some homes in Nain and in Hopedale that don't last 10 years and they have to be replaced.- Isabella Pain, Nunatsiavut Secretariat deputy minister

Homes are literally slipping into the ground.

Recent research findings by the Nunatsiavut government confirms some of the structural challenges that homes in places like Nain and Hopedale are facing. Eighty-six per cent of them were found to have been damaged from the shifting ground.

There are some abandoned units in Nain, like the lower level of this home. The Nunatsiavut government told Pijogge that it was unfit to live in. (Kate Adach/CBC)
Nunatsiavut President Sarah Leo says her government is aware of the ever-changing situation.

"We've always known that there's a housing situation in Nunatsiavut," Leo said.

"We're here, you know, we talk to people, we can see it."

Adding to the issue are the effects of climate change, as well as a chronic lack of housing funding from the provincial and federal governments.

Being south-of-60 and off-reserve, Labrador's Inuit do not receive federal housing support.

Still, Leo said their research findings give them something to go on.

"To actually get [these research findings] in black and white so we can go to the other levels of the government and say, 'look,' you know, 'we need help with housing in Nunatsiavut,'" Leo told CBC. 

Nunatsiavut wants sustainable housing

Isabella Pain, deputy minister of the Nunatsiavut Secretariat, reiterates Leo's stance.

"We have seen a number of homes in our communities that have deteriorated way to quickly," said Pain.

"We're seeing some homes in Nain and in Hopedale that don't last 10 years and they have to be replaced."

Pain said her government wants homes that are sustainable, and they are moving toward that goal.

In December, the Arctic Inspiration Prize awarded the Nunatsiavut government with $350,000. That money, in addition to their own resources, is allowing the Nunatsiavut government to build more homes that are more sustainable and enduring.

There is nothing, we've tried everything and anything, even [moving into] abandoned homes- Connie Pijogge 

A more sustainable test structure with about eight units is being designed, and will hopefully be built in Nain by next summer.

"I am excited that we're going to find a new way of building, which is going to make sure that the resources that we're currently investing will last," said Pain.

"It's going to be a really exciting time that we're going to be hopefully solving some of the housing crisis that we currently have as well as in the future," Pain added.

But for Pijogge, all this talk of a future solution is not a quick-enough fix.

"I don't want to move away from Nain, I don't want to leave," Pijogge said.

"I shouldn't have to move away from Nain to raise my kids, to give them a home."

For now, Pijogge and her family plan to move in with some extended family in Nain, until other arrangements can be made.