After 18 months in uninsulated shack, Pond Inlet family to get a home

'It gets really cold at night,' said Jeannie Kasarnak. 'I have to stay awake all night to make sure the kids are not cold.'

Jeannie Kasarnak has been living in a tiny shack with her 3 children since March 2017

Jeannie Kasarnak's children huddle in a blanket to keep warm. (Submitted by Jeannie Kasarnak)

Jeannie Kasarnak stays up all night tending the flame of a Coleman camping stove.

It's the only thing providing heat to a tiny, uninsulated shack she lives in with her three young children and common-law partner, Gary Kalluk.

The family lives in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, where temperatures hover around -18 C this time of year.

It gets really cold at night.- Jeannie Kasarnak, mother

This is their second winter in the shack — they moved in March 2017. Its walls are lined with cardboard in an attempt to retain some heat, but ice climbs the walls anyway. At night, Kasarnak's children, who are six, four and two years old, can see their breath. They huddle together in a blanket to keep warm.

"It gets really cold at night," said Kasarnak.

"I have to stay awake all night to make sure the kids are not cold."

A 'needs-based' points system

Kasarnak and her family had something to celebrate on Wednesday. They'd just gotten word they won't be spending this winter in their shack — they're moving into public housing on Nov. 21.

Temperatures hover around -18 C this time of year in Pond Inlet, which is cold enough for ice to form on the inside of the walls of this shack. (Submitted by Jeannie Kasarnak)

The Kasarnak family's struggle is a common story in Nunavut. The territory has been in the midst of a housing crisis for years, with demand far outstripping the rate new homes are built. This means local housing associations, including the Pond Inlet Housing Association, must assign public housing to people on the basis of a "needs-based point system."

The Pond Inlet Housing Association is the local organization responsible for assigning the Nunavut Housing Corporation's public housing stocks.

"Though the territory is building an additional 100 housing units in Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Kugaaruk, Igloolik, Iqaluit, Arviat and Rankin Inlet, the rate at which we are building houses is not enough to keep up with population growth," stated Terry Audla, president of the Nunavut Housing Corporation.

"This situation demands we manage our resources very carefully."

Thousands of homes needed

In 2017, the federal government announced $240 million over 10 years to address the housing situation in Nunavut. At the time, Audla criticized the funding, saying it would only cover about 48 homes per year. Audla estimates the territory needs thousands of units to meet demand.

The corporation is negotiating with the federal government for more housing money.

There are 69 people waiting for housing in Pond Inlet as of March 31, according to data from the Nunavut Housing Corporation. The community has 274 units, including planned housing construction.

The corporation uses a formula made up of a community's total housing stock and wait list to rank the needs of each Nunavut community. Out of the territory's 25 communities, Pond Inlet is ranked 23rd.

According to the housing corporation, Iqaluit has the highest housing needs with a stock of 540 (including planned housing construction) and a wait list of 360 people.

Tracy Wood, a policy analyst with the Department of Family Services, said representatives with the department conducted door-to-door surveys in Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Arviat and Gjoa Haven this summer to "determine the extent of hidden homelessness in Nunavut." 

"The department is analyzing that data and the results will inform future initiatives to address homelessness in the territory," she said in an emailed statement.

With files from Salu Avva and Randi Beers