Minich, Katherine, Helga Saudny, Crystal Lennie, Michele Wood, Laakkuluk Williamson-Bathory, Zhirong Cao, and Grace M. Egeland (2011) Inuit housing and homelessness: results from the International Polar Year Inuit Health Survey 2007–2008, International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 70(5): 520-531

Keywords: children and youthcrowdinghealthhomelessnesssocial housi

Authors of this report sought to understand the characteristics of housing, and the prevalence of households providing shelter to homeless visitors in Arctic Inuit communities. The data used for the analyses used was from the International Polar Year Inuit Health Survey (IPY-IHS). IPY-IHS is a multifaceted, cross-sectional health survey that was conducted in the late summer and fall of 2007 and 2008 in thirty-three coastal and three inland communities in three regions of Inuit Nunangat (or Inuit Homeland). One adult from each household completed an interviewer-administered household questionnaire concerning language spoken at home, living conditions, access to country food, employment, income and other questions about the home environment.

A total of 2,796 Inuit households were randomly selected and approached, of which 1,901 households participated (68%) in the survey. The survey is comprised of data from 65% in Inuvialuit Settlement Region, 58% in Nunatsiavut, and 71% in Nunavut. Household characteristics by region were determined through weighted variable descriptive statistics that were presented by region and by whether children were present or not in each household. Most homes surveyed were public housing (65%), with the remaining being either private (29%), territorial/provincial (4%), other (1.7%) or federal housing (<1%). Statistics Canada’s definition of household crowding was used for this study. Thus a home was considered crowded if more than one person occupied a room, and rooms included bedrooms, kitchen, and living room.

Analyses showed about one-fifth of Inuit homes reported providing shelter to homeless individuals, with an average of 2.3 homeless guests for an average duration of 1.4 months. Little is known about the factors contributing to homelessness or about the characteristics of those seeking shelter. In addition, household crowding was found to be particularly prevalent in Nunavut, where nearly a third of homes were considered crowded. The authors estimate that 54.4% of children lived in a crowded household, 25.1% lived in a house with mold, 48.4% lived in a home in need of major repairs, and 72.5% resided in public housing in all regions combined.

The authors recommend that immediate short-term solutions are needed for the Inuit, such as providing shelter for homeless individuals and particularly for those suffering from domestic violence. The findings highlight ways in which poor living conditions may have an impact on population health.