'Somebody is going to die' if Iqaluit shelter doesn't reopen soon, says former director

Iqaluit's damp shelter, the only shelter that allowed intoxicated people to stay overnight, has been closed since a six-month pilot project ended in June.

Minister says residents should 'be a little bit more patient' until new partner is found

Tony Canny, director of the Inukshuk Guardian Society and a former director of the damp shelter, said former clients have asked him when the shelter is likely to reopen. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

The former director of Iqaluit's damp shelter says "somebody is going to die" if it doesn't reopen fast.  

"I know it sounds dramatic to say that," said Tony Canny, chairperson of the Inukshuk Guardian Society and former director of the damp shelter. "But unfortunately, that's the reality."

The city's damp shelter was the only shelter in Nunavut that allowed intoxicated people to stay overnight. Iqaluit's two other shelters don't allow people inside under the influence. 

The damp shelter closed in June the completion six-month pilot project. Right now, the Government of Nunavut is looking to secure a local partner to operate the shelter so it can reopen. 

'We were full to capacity'

As it gets colder outside, Canny worries about where people are going to go. 

"We [the damp shelter] were full a lot of nights, we were full to capacity," said Canny. "Where are [these people] now?"

The damp shelter opened as a response to the Qikiqtani General Hospital no longer allowing people to stay overnight. The hospital had to stop letting people in because it was jeopardizing its accreditation, according to Family Services Minister Elisapee Sheutiapik.

Right now, there is nowhere for people to go if they are intoxicated and don't have a safe place to stay. 

"They need to have somewhere to go when they're a victim of alcohol, a victim of drug abuse, [or a] victim of domestic abuse," said Canny. 

Canny said he has been approached by former clients asking if he knows when the shelter will open again. One client told Canny that at night he finds a place to sleep and when he becomes too cold, he walks around town until he's warm enough to fall back asleep.  

"There's a lot of people who need this service," said Canny.

Minister of Family Services Elisapee Sheutiapik said residents will need to 'be a little bit more patient' with friends and family in need while the government finds a new partner organization to operate the shelter. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

'Be a little bit more patient,' says minister

Though the Government of Nunavut is looking for a non-profit to partner with, Canny said he hasn't yet been approached by the Department of Family Services to operate the shelter. 

Even if he was asked, he said, it wouldn't be feasible for the Inukshuk Guardians to take it on, because they are already short on board members. 

Family Services did ask Qajuqturvik Food Centre to operate it, but they said they don't have the capacity to be able to take on the responsibility of the shelter either.

Sheutiapik said the department is in talks with another organization and hopes to have an announcement on the shelter within a few weeks. She would not say which organization they were negotiating with.

According to Sheutiapik, it's better to have the community involved in running the shelter to make clients more comfortable, instead of the Government of Nunavut running it on its own.

Sheutiapik wouldn't say when she expects an opening date for the shelter, but said she hopes it will be this winter.

"For the short term," Sheutiapik said, "maybe we're going to be a little bit more patient with our friends and family."

"That's what we always did in the past, is to be there for family and friends," Sheutiapik said.

According to the data collected from the pilot project, 211 people went through the shelter. Of the 211 people accessing the shelter, 75 per cent of them were men. Nearly half — 43 per cent — of the clients were sober.