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Iqaluit family living in tent moves in with a relative

An Iqaluit family who's spent the last three months living in a tent is temporarily staying at a relative's house after they say Nunavut's Department of Family Services threatened to take their four children away if they didn't find another place to stay.

Family told to get the children out of the tent or else they would be taken away

Norman Roger Laisa and his family had been living in this tent since July. The family is now staying with a relative. (John Van Dusen)

An Iqaluit family that has spent the last three months living in a tent is now staying at a relative's house temporarily, after they say Nunavut's Department of Family Services threatened to take the children away if they didn't find housing.

"I had no choice to call my uncle to ask him if we could stay in his house, even though it's one bedroom, and I told him that if we don't find a place they'll take our kids and he said yes right away," Norman Roger Laisa said.

Laisa, who works part-time with the City of Iqaluit, says he's received a number of donations including blankets and fuel for a heater he was using to keep the tent warm. 

His 16-year-old son is staying with an aunt while he, his three other children and his common-law spouse – who is three-months pregnant – are staying with his uncle.

He does not know how long he will be able to stay there but is hoping to find a place he can afford for his family of six on the $4,000 he makes in a month.

"I'm just very glad social services didn't grab my kids. If they did that would shatter my heart."

Family Services would not comment on the family's situation but the deputy minister says the department assesses cases on an individual basis.

"What we do is assess situations, individuals, families to make sure we can support them and help them," Rebekah Uqi Williams said.

"I can't give housing. We can help with rent, we can help with food, we can help with clothing. That's what we could help with."

Housing Authority told about situation more than a month ago

The family moved into a tent after Laisa left a part-time job with the Royal Canadian Legion which provided housing. He says he wasn't making enough money there and needed to find a full-time job. The 45-year-old contracted tuberculosis earlier on in his life, affecting his ability to breathe.

More than a month ago Laisa delivered a letter written by his doctor to the Iqaluit Housing Authority.

The letter, dated Sept. 24, says "From what I understand Mr. Laisa is currently living in a tent, and the heating source he is using is causing a worsening of his respiratory symptoms."

"There is no doubt that there are significant risks of respiratory and food and water-borne illness to this family when living in such a vulnerable situation. Not only are there risks elevated for someone who is pregnant, but also for Mr. Laisa specifically, as I feel this housing situation may put him at risk for unsuccessful treatment for his illness. 

"Due to the potential health concerns, I would ask that you consider Mr. Laisa's request for housing on an urgent basis. An expedient solution to their housing situation would be in the best interest of himself, his partner and their children."

Not enough homes

The family is one of 170 on a wait-list for housing in Iqaluit and the president and CEO of the Nunavut Housing Corporation says there are more families in the city and across the territory in similar situations

"We do take those health concerns seriously but again, we don't have enough stock to accommodate everybody," Lori Kimball said.

She estimates there are more than 3,000 families in need of public housing in Nunavut.

"It's frustrating for everybody that works in the housing area because we don't have adequate funding and so there is a limit of what we can do. And even though the situation is horrible, it's not the only one." 

"If you go by the beach you'll see a number of shacks, there are a number of people outside or in unheated shelters with portable heating mechanisms in Iqaluit and it just speaks to the overall dire need for housing in Nunavut," Kimball said.

The only way to overcome the situation she says, is with federal help.

"We desperately need increased federal investment to address the situation."

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