The woman who chairs Nain Transition House says the lack of housing in her community is reaching the breaking point.
Heather Angnatok says she has been approached several times in the last few weeks by women and men who say they have no place to go.
The women involved are staying at the shelter with their children, while the men had been living in a tent all summer.
With winter just about here, the options for housing are few and far between.
“I want people to understand that we are in a desperate situation,” Angnatok said Monday afternoon.
“We are dealing with an extreme housing shortage in Nain and with winter around the corner, we are now seeing the real emergency.”
Angnatok said the community has one of the fastest-growing populations in Nunatsiavut, if not the province.
“No matter if it’s one person or 10 people — if someone is homeless, you have a crisis on your hands,” she said.
“We have a lot of single-parent families, a lot of single people looking for housing. We also have a lot of ‘couch surfers’ in the community.”
Angnatok, who has chaired the Nain Transition House board for the last dozen years, said they only started tracking statistics for the shelter about two years ago.
She said this year is the worst she has ever seen in terms of a lack of housing.
“Generally, those at the shelter can only stay a maximum of six weeks before moving on to other accommodations,” Angnatok explained.
“But we have been granting extensions — based on circumstances — because there is nowhere for these women to go.”
Angnatok said two recent cases involving women and children have been sorted out, but only for the short term. Both women have been granted extensions, with one subsidized housing unit to be made available in the next couple of weeks, and another “hopefully” ready in the new year.
“We’re definitely not going to put anyone out on the street.”
Angnatok said the only option for subsidized housing is in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, but that isn’t always a solution, either.
“Not all (women at the shelter) want to move away from their home,” she said.
Another factor is the lack of land for those wanting to build a home.
“I know of one woman — a single woman — who has all her materials on hand to build her own home, but there is no land available on which to build.”
Angnatok said she and others will do what they can to help those who need it.
“I really hope the province pays attention and listens to what we’re asking. We’re not asking for millions of dollars. We’re asking for some short-term and, eventually, long-term help to get something started.”
Angnatok said she wants everyone to get involved, including the province and the Nunatsiavut government.
“I am not pointing fingers, but I do want to see everyone come together to work out some solutions,” she said.
Not much turnover
There are 35 Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. (NLHC) units in Nain. Of those, 33 were occupied as of Tuesday. There are eight two-bedroom units and the others are three-bedroom units.
Through the Affordable Housing Initiative, in 2007, NLHC provided $200,000 to Torngat Regional Housing for five affordable rental-housing units for people with low incomes.
A spokesperson said one unit is undergoing repairs and will be ready within the next couple of weeks.
“A family has already been selected for this unit and they were advised in writing three weeks ago … that the unit would be ready near the end of November or first week of December.
“There is another unit that is in need of major repairs … (and) we hope to have repairs started early in the next calendar year.”
The spokesperson added there is little turnover among occupants of the units, and there are seven families on the waiting list.
Applications are based on need.
“For example, victims of family violence are given top priority. Applications with critical medical needs are also given priority,” the spokesperson said.
“Individuals with mobility issues are another priority. Other priorities include persons with complex needs, or those who are homeless, to name but a few of the priorities that are considered.”
In 2010-11, $945,000 was spent to build four new three-bedroom units in Nain, and in 2011-12 another $942,000 was spent on four two-bedroom units in Hopedale.
NLHC says it hasn’t seen an increase in applications in recent months.
But that doesn’t surprise Angnatok, who works with some of the most vulnerable people in the community.
“Not everyone knows where to go or how to ask for help,” she said.
Torngat Mountains MHA Randy Edmunds agrees with Angnatok that the lack of housing in Nain is becoming a crisis situation.
“This is affecting everyone — from seniors to teenagers to single-parent families and other families,” Edmunds said Tuesday.
He said he has spoken with Paul Davis, the minister responsible for housing, on the issue.
“It’s a losing situation,” said Edmunds. “There is no new housing available, new subdivision plots are being snapped up before they’re even completed and Nain is growing at a rapid rate. We see homelessness increasing on an annual basis.”
Edmunds said he has also spoken with several Nunatsiavut government ministers in recent months and they are well aware of the housing crisis.
“We’re all trying to find solutions, but we keep hitting brick walls and dead ends,” he said.
“We’re looking at this from every angle we can.”
Nunatsiavut president Sarah Leo was travelling Tuesday and unavailable for comment.