Nunavut family of 11 goes without hot water for duration of COVID-19 outbreak

For a family of 11 in Arviat, a lockdown and a broken boiler means there hasn’t been hot water in their 3-bedroom public housing for over two weeks. While everyone is well, Cecilia Akammak says she has to boil water to hand wash and disinfect surfaces. 

The lockdown ended on Wednesday in the rest of Nunavut, where active case numbers have fallen consistently throughout the week, leaving only a handful of active cases in Whale Cove and zero left in Rankin Inlet.  

But Arviat still has 44 active cases as of Friday. The 2,550 person community remains in full isolation with no travel in and out of the community while health staff work to curb community transmission. 

With schools closed and families confined to their homes in winter, the outbreak is highlighting the territory’s ongoing struggles with overcrowding and inadequate housing.  

Because maintenance staff with the local housing authority are isolating too, the Nunavut Housing Corporation says only emergency repairs are possible. 

“I was even thinking to call the Health minister. It’s a kind of urgent emergency because we have to have hot water in hand too, we have to boil it to be clean,” says Akammak. 

Federal relief funds helped the municipality send food hampers to families who can’t go out to the store, and trucked water delivery has been increased. 

But Jennifer Aulatut says water in her home is yellow and makes her children sick. 

“It’s not good water to drink or wash your hands. If I want to have coffee, I buy some water at the store,” she said, though adding, due to financial constraints, buying water is often not an option for her.  

Jennifer Aulatut with her children. The family doesn’t have safe drinking water in their home and can’t stay with family because it isn’t safe to visit during lockdown, she says. (Submitted by Jennifer Aulatut.)

Usually she stays with family when her 60-year-old dilapidated home needs urgent repairs. 

But says, right now it isn’t safe to visit. 

No shelter, isolation space

A recent territorial survey on hidden homelessness found over 140 people in Arviat are homeless, and over 60 children live in unstable housing situations. 

There is no homeless shelter in the community and the Department of Family Services says to get one, a non-profit community group would have to organize it. 

We have nothing, absolutely nothing in our community– Jenny Gibbons, Arviat resident

Jenny Gibbons, also an Arviat resident, has been working to build support for a shelter in her community for the last two years, but faces her own struggles, like lack of Internet needed to access the forms and information from the government.

“There are too many people in one house,” she said. “We have nothing, absolutely nothing in our community and we need it.” 

Gibbons says she knows what it’s like to rely on other people for housing. 

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said there are some separate isolation spaces identified in Arviat to help deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, but that these spaces are nowhere near the amount that would be needed to keep all sick people separate. 

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson says there aren’t enough separate spaces in Arviat for sick people to isolate away from their households. (Submitted by Dylan Clark)

Because many households have a large number of people living there, he said isolating one person isn’t helpful when others may already be infected. And, he added, it may be harmful to remove people from their support network while ill. 

However, he said by following safety measures like cleaning and mask wearing, contact teams are seeing that not everyone in a household will become ill.

Housing corp can’t meet demand

Since 2018 there have been 45 public housing units built in Arviat, bringing the community to ninth place on the government’s list of communities most in need of housing, out of 25. 

Nunavut-wide, the housing corporation says over 3,000 units are needed. But its president Terry Audla says the 120 to 130 the government is able to build annually are not enough to keep up with demand, much less the growing population. 

Each year, it costs the territory around $20,000 in upkeep for each of it’s 5,000 plus public housing units, and these overall maintenance costs increase as more units are built, he said. Water and electricity are the highest bills, he said. 

Terry Audla, president of the Nunavut Housing Corporation, says a COVID-19 outbreak in the Kivalliq region highlights the strains a territory-wide housing crisis puts on residents. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Audla says the Nunavut government spends more on housing than the other territories. He hopes to access COVID-19 funding from a $1 billion pandemic-related rapid housing initiative announced through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. So far, he says COVID-19 support funds have only gone to personal protective equipment for his staff. 

“We are continuing to try and lobby for more dollars because of the housing crisis here in Nunavut, and the COVID-19 pandemic just magnifies it all, considering Arviat as an example, how it spread so quick so fast,” Audla said. 

Housing builds in the territory are allocated based on the number of housing applications filed with a local housing office, as well as population growth and rates of overcrowding. 

The government is having an independent review of that allocation method done right now, after MLAs said the housing wait lists reported for their communities did not accurately reflect what is needed on the ground. That report is expected to be done by the summer of next year, he said.

No pandemic money yet for housing  

In an interview with CBC News last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called housing one solution to poor health, low education and high rates of family violence experienced in Nunavut. 

“We know how important it is to invest in housing and this pandemic has only exacerbated that and highlighted the need for more investments, and we will be there to do more for housing in the North,” Trudeau said. 

But in a news conference following the announcement of $19.36 million in federal relief money for Nunavut, Premier Joe Savikataaq says pandemic funds so far aren’t meant for housing.

In the meantime, families like those of Cecilia Akammak or Jennifer Aulatut are doing their best to follow the restrictions put in place by public health despite the short falls of their living conditions that are now amplified by the pandemic.

“We have to be clean but it’s kind of hard without hot water,” Akammak said. “It’s tiring too.” 

View original article here Source

Related Posts