North·Video

Iqaluit family of 6 lives in downtown tent

With nowhere else to go, Alison Nakoolak, her spouse and her four children have spent the past three months living in a tent in a friend's yard while waiting for public housing in Iqaluit.

Nunavut Housing Corporation calls situation 'very unfortunate,' is working to find family a place to stay

Alison Nakoolak with two of her four children. The 36-year-old has been living in a tent in Iqaluit with her family for the past three months. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

If you walked past it, you wouldn't look twice. Near downtown Iqaluit, right in front of a row of houses, is a tent draped in a blue tarp.

It's home to a family of six.

With nowhere else to go, Alison Nakoolak and her family have spent the past three months living there while waiting for public housing. Last night, temperatures in Iqaluit went down to -18 C; with windchill it felt like -30. 

"I'm always thinking what to do now with my kids because it's getting cold out," Alison Nakoolak said.

"It's cold inside the tent. It's hard for us to live there."

The mother of four children, including an 18-month-old baby, is also three months pregnant.

The tent belongs to Josephie Kakee who's letting the family stay outside his home. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

The tent is borrowed from Josephie Kakee, who is letting the family stay in front of his house, allowing them to run an extension cord from his front porch into the makeshift home, powering a TV, heater and a light hanging from the ceiling.

A propane tank serves as a heat source. Two buckets serve as the bathroom.

Kakee, who lives in a social housing unit, is worried if he lets the family in, his rent will go up.

"I know I can ask them to stay with me but with the housing authority involved ... it means more rent from my pockets," Kakee said through an interpreter.

The Nunavut Housing Corporation (NHC) says the situation is "very unfortunate" and highlights a desperate need for more social housing in the territory, adding it's working to find a place for the family.

"The reality is that there aren't enough public housing units in the territory to meet demand," reads a statement by the NHC.

"When a special situation such as this arises, the NHC works closely with its partners at the Department of Family Services, to try to find a temporary housing solution, be it through emergency shelters, or private market housing."

Breathing room

Before moving into the tent, the family had been living in staff housing provided by Iqaluit's Royal Canadian Legion branch. Nakoolak's common-law spouse, Norman Laisa, had been working there part-time, as well as driving a sewage truck for the city full-time.

Nakoolak says working two jobs became too much and her spouse left his Legion job, putting the family out of a home. 

A respiratory illness means staying with family members who smoke inside their homes isn't an option, says Nakoolak.

"It's hard to live with other family for him. Some of our friends always call us to stay at [their] place but it's hard for him because he can't smell any cigarettes inside the house," Nakoolak said.

"It's very [stressful] to wait for the housing list, it's very hard ... especially when we have small kids in a tent."

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