Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad

Youth shelter to close

John Thompson
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Mar 28/05) - Michael Qisualik is a 16-year-old with green hair and a troubled past.

Problems with drugs and alcohol, and fights with his step-dad, led him to leave home. For the past month, he's been one of three residents of a shelter for youths run by the Illitiit Society. By the end of March, the shelter will close. It could hold up to six homeless youth.

The youth cottage, is fully furnished with beds, a full kitchen and bathroom, living room, computers and television.

As Qisualik clicks away on a keyboard to chat with friends over the Internet, he talks about how he's cleaned up his life. He has a place to stay next month, and soon afterward he plans to move to Yellowknife to finish a cooking apprenticeship. But right now, he's thankful to have a roof over his head.

"If it wasn't for this place, I'd still be on the streets," he said.

Illitiit opened the youth cottage two summers ago to fill a void, says chair Bill Riddell. But the project dragged the society into a $160,000 debt, leading the city to take over operation of the Oqota emergency shelter.

"We failed to make arrangements to make the youth cottage self-sustaining," he said. "We basically offered it for free."

Riddell says while he doesn't blame anyone for the society's financial woes, he was under the impression government funding would be forthcoming.

"I don't blame them, but I'm hurt."

But government officials say no commitments were ever made.

"There were no such assurances," said Margaret Hollis, legal director for the department of justice. While there was interest, she said the site lacked the quality of supervision the government needs.

Riddell says Illitiit hopes to form a partnership with other groups to help pay off its debts. He will also continue to search for more funding for the youth cottage, with the goal to re-opening by May.

"If you're afraid to fail, you'll never accomplish anything," he said. "We'll never resolve the problem of homelessness if we don't try."