The most recent Canadian statistics continue to show that the North has some of the highest rates of family and gendered violence in the country. More than 70 per cent of the 53 Inuit communities spread across four geographic regions of the Canadian Arctic do not have a safe shelter for women and children experiencing family violence. This can mean a woman may have to plead with local social service workers to be flown to another community to seek safety. There have been too many cases in the Arctic when the lack of access to safe alternatives has led to the loss of lives.
For the approximately 15 existing safe shelters and transition homes, very high occupancy rates combined with daily challenges to meet operating and human resource requirements contribute to high staff turnover rates due to burnout, lack of peer support and often little to or training because of geographic isolation and limited financial resources for training. There is no second stage housing in the Arctic, which can be crucial in a woman’s efforts to re-establish a life without violence.
There are many unique factors that contribute to Inuit women and girls being at risk of being victimized. Temporary houses and structures used to build permanent settlements 70 years ago have long outlived their practical lifespan and basic infrastructure is lacking in all communities. The 2007 Little Voices of Nunavut: A Study of Women’s Homelessness North of 60, prepared for the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council, estimates that “(f)ifty-four percent of the Inuit population currently live in overcrowded conditions, and 38.7% of them are considered in core need. This statistic is so high because the desperate lack of housing options forces people to turn to friends and family.” The 2011 report If Not Now…When? Addressing the Ongoing Inuit Housing Crisis in Canada, produced by the Inuit Tuttarvingat of the National Aboriginal Health Organization, cites 2006 statistics indicating that 31 per cent of Inuit live in crowded housing, compared to three per cent of Canada’s total population.
Randomly under-funded programs and services are offered without being sustainable, Inuit-specific, or consistent between communities. Many positions in the North for service providers in the fields of health, mental health, and social work are left vacant. While the provinces and territories are responsible for housing and safe shelters for women Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada provides operational funding to shelters on-reserve , and also “reimburses costs for off-reserve shelter services used by First Nations people ordinarily resident on-reserve.” As Inuit communities are not reserves, shelters serving Inuit women in the Arctic cannot access this funding.
In 2007/08, Pauktuutit worked with shelter directors in Inuit communities to create the Inuit Women’s Shelter Directors Association. It was hoped that the creation of an Inuit-specific organization would help shelters in Inuit communities to access additional funds to support their internal capacity and help meet training needs of shelter workers in remote communities, as well as advocate for new shelters in more Inuit communities.