Nunavik Public Health says its hands are tied by the lack of housing
The problem of lack of housing has been known and documented for decades in the region. (Archives)
Faced with the wave of infant deaths that hit Nunavik in 2021, regional public health maintains that its prevention efforts are limited by the lack of housing, that forces entire families to share inadequate living spaces.
The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services is thus reacting to the recently published report by coroner Geneviève Thériault.
In her investigation, the coroner underlines the close link between the overcrowding of housing and the sudden death of a dozen children under the age of 1, during the year 2021.
The problem raised by the coroner is however already well known to health regional public.
It is not uncommon in Nunavik to see rooms full to bursting. Different generations regularly share homes that are too small.
According to Statistics Canada, 47% of housing in Nunavik is overcrowded.
Due to lack of space, infants often have to share beds with adults.
The situation presents a serious risk to the health of babies, who could find themselves accidentally crushed during their sleep.
The Regional Board has therefore financed the purchase of safe beds for babies in all Nunavik communities in recent years.
Health authorities have however realized that the lack of space in the rooms meant that the beds were generally not not used.
Young parents often do not have their own accommodation and have to live with all relatives. For their own little family, they only have one room in which they will put mattresses on the floor. It fills the floor and there is simply no room for a crib, explains Dr. Faisca Richer, medical assistant at the Nunavik public health department.
Children's beds are generally not on sale in Nunavik stores. (Archives)
The fight against smoking is also one of the battle horses of regional public health.
Exposure to second-hand smoke in infants has been identified as an important risk factor.
Again, the lack of space in housing undermines public health efforts.
The mother may have the best will in the world to quit smoking during pregnancy and afterwards, but if she does not live in her own home, it will be extremely difficult for her to impose on others that there is no no second-hand smoke in the house, adds Dr. Richer.
Regional public health believes that more housing would help improve the general health of the population of Nunavik. (Archives)
It therefore defines the lack of housing as a central element in the public health problems of the region.
If we were able to fill the housing gap, with adequate funding and the correct support from our governments, we would not only be working on the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome, but also on the problems of tuberculosis, she explains.
We probably wouldn't have had the wave of COVID that we had. We would most likely have a lot less suicides, violence and [abuse] among children, adds Dr. Faisca Richer.
In her report, coroner Geneviève Thériault recommends the rapid construction of housing to reduce risk factors in families. She urges the federal and provincial government to take up the matter.
Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Marc Miller, reacted to the publication of the coroner's report. It recognizes that the needs are great and that current funding is insufficient to address the lack of housing.
We know that during the last two budget cycles, this was not enough to close the housing gap. The target is 2030. The government, regardless of which one, will have to make sustained investments for the next budget cycles. It's something we watch year after year. We must not let go, explains Minister Marc Miller.
Marc Miller hopes that future federal investments will be able to reduce Nunavik's housing deficit by 2030.
The coroner also called on the Secretariat of Native Affairs of Quebec, now called the Ministry of Relations with First Nations and Inuit. The minister responsible, Ian Lafrenière, did not wish to answer our questions for the moment.
On the ground, expectations are high. Recently, the Kativik Municipal Housing Office reported a shortage of 800 housing units in the region.
Construction is notably slowed down by the prohibitive costs of transporting materials to the North and the short construction season.
A hundred housing units are currently being built each year in the region, a pace that does not match the rapid population growth in Nunavik.
The problem will therefore remain unsolved, as long as the necessary resources are not invested to speed up construction.