Programming, addressing complex needs key to helping homeless in Happy Valley-Goose Bay


‘I guess the bigger issue is there’s no place for them to move on,’ says Michelle Kinney, deputy minister of Health and Social Development with the Nunatsiavut Government of Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s homeless population. (Submitted by Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay)

After a video of an Inuk man in handcuffs being thrown to the ground by a Happy Valley-Goose Bay municipal enforcement officer was posted on social media, a deputy minister in the Nunatsiavut Government says a lot of work needs to be done to help the homeless population in Labrador.

The video was first shared by Torngat Mountains MHA Lela Evans on Friday. Evans said the man in the video is homeless. 

Michelle Kinney, Nunatsiavut’s deputy minister of Health and Social Development, told CBC Radio’s On The Go on Monday she’s reserving judgment from the video, not fully knowing the events that transpired leading up to the take down. 

The officer in the video has since been put on administrative duty and the town has launched an independent investigation into the incident. 

“I think that people in general are frustrated with the homeless issue, and there’s probably a time that they have less patience than they should,” Kinney said.

“I’m not one to criticize. I think we need to let that investigation take course and see what comes about.”

Homelessness contributing to social issues

But, Kinney said, there’s collaborative work that needs to be done between governmental departments and Indigenous groups to truly help the homeless population in Labrador.

She said homelessness is contributing to a lot of social issues, particularly during the pandemic, when a lot of resources available to the homeless — such as the library, access to computers or other warming centres — have been closed. 

We need to look at being supportive and finding some solutions, as opposed to being judgmental.– Michelle Kinney

Kinney said the shelter in Happy Valley-Goose Bay currently houses 10 clients in an eight-bed facility. She said seven more have been transported to the Labrador Inn to allow social distancing measures during the pandemic. There are also 10 communal units and seven apartments, all of which are filled, and a wait list of 22 other people waiting to get in. 

“I guess the bigger issue is there’s no place for them to move on. So there’s only one board and lodging home in Happy Valley-Goose Bay that is consistently full, there are no rental properties that these individuals would be able to access, so they’re kind of stuck once the shelter isn’t an option,” she said.

“Moving on to something that’s more transient, or more permanent even, is less of an option.”  

Evans told CBC Radio’s Newfoundland Morning on Monday that the issue of homelessness in her district is going unaddressed. In turn, Evans said, it’s fostering racism toward Indigenous people. 

“I know the issue of homelessness, and I know it’s a problem for local residents, it’s a problem for the people who are homeless,” Evans said. 

“Trying to deter homeless people from being in a certain area shouldn’t be solved by hurting them. … You’re not going to correct his behaviour, you’re not going to correct where he’s going. It needs to be addressed at a different level and that’s through the shelter and through different programs that deal with homelessness.”

Complex needs

Kinney said there’s a bigger picture that needs to be addressed, such as the trauma and root causes which is leading to the majority of the homeless population in Happy Valley-Goose Bay being Indigenous.

She said while there are some resources available for the homeless, such as justice and mental health services, the population is accessing them in a “piece meal” way. 

“I think we need to be providing wraparound services to have an integrated approach to dealing with them, and in the longer term we’re going to have better outcomes,” she said. 

“The trauma, the complex needs of these individuals, the experiences they have faced or intergenerationally their families have faced, we need to look at being supportive and look at finding some solutions, as opposed to being judgmental.”

Meanwhile, the RCMP says it did receive a call for assistance from a municipal enforcement officer on Friday afternoon concerning an intoxicated man in a public place. 

“Happy Valley-Goose Bay RCMP attended the scene. When police arrived, the man was already handcuffed by the municipal enforcement officer and was found to be intoxicated,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. 

“He was arrested by the RCMP, transported to the detachment and was lodged in cells until sober. He was released without any charges.”

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