‘We have to help one another to survive’: A conversation with Jonas Allooloo

The severe lack of affordable housing in Northern Canada has left the Rev. Jonas Allooloo unable to find a home two years after his retirement as dean of St. Jude's Cathedral in Iqaluit. Photo: Contributed
Published January 25, 2021

In December 2020, the Anglican Journal published “No room in the inn.” This article detailed how the Rev. Jonas Allooloo—former dean of St. Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit, Nunavut, and a key translator of the first Bible in Inuktitut—was effectively homeless two years after his retirement in January 2019.

The housing crisis in the North, which includes low vacancy rates and some of the highest rent prices in Canada, had left Jonas and his wife Meena unable to find affordable housing. At the time of writing in mid-October, the Allooloos had moved in with their daughter, a cook who lives in staff housing.

The publication of this article prompted a strong response from readers, who expressed concern for the Allooloos and clamoured for an update. On Jan. 19, the Journal spoke to Jonas Allooloo on his current housing situation. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Hi Jonas, how are you doing?

I’m doing alright. I have been busy [translating] Scripture into Inuktitut. We’ve been updating our New Testament in Inuktitut. I’m still at it…. We finished the whole Bible in 2012. Now we are updating some of the books…. Bishop Andrew [Atagotaaluk (ret’d)] and myself and the Canadian Bible Society.

We’ve been at this since 1978, [when] we started the New Testament of the Bible. Now I am doing the Old Testament review. We work independently, then we do one big call. There’s a program for translators from the Bible Society. It’s called Paratext, and we send and receive by Internet.

Good to hear the work is progressing. I assumed that the translation of the Bible into Inuktitut was finished in 2012.

Some of it was rushed to get it done. Now we’re reviewing it.

How have you been for the last few months since the article was published? What’s your current living situation?

There’s no change. I’m still living in our daughter’s staff housing. Because of the pandemic, maybe, we have not moved out.

You were saying earlier that you might have to leave the staff housing in November.

Yes, that didn’t happen, because my daughter’s boss is overseas. He can’t get back to Canada, because of the pandemic, I think. It’s a [detached] house, four-bedroom, two-storey … not bad, but it’s drafty [laugh].

Have you gotten much of a response from people since the publication of our article on your housing situation? Has anyone reached out to ask about your well-being?

Bishop Riscylla Shaw, from Toronto, and also from the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples. And some others—we used to be in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, in Cambridge. We used to visit Anglican churches all around there every weekend when we were working on the Bible [translation]. There were three of us going around every weekend to give a talk in different churches. I guess some of these people who have seen us are responding.

What kind of things are they saying?

They’re asking me if I’m still homeless, and there’s people who wanted to fundraise for us. I’m not sure what’s happening. They haven’t gotten back to me.

Has anyone from the church reached out to you about a plan for potential remedies to help you find housing?

Not from the church. I haven’t heard anything else. It’s sort of bleak [laugh]. While we are in our situation now, it’s getting harder not to have a home, because some of our stuff is stored away in containers. We’re in limbo, wanting to move out and get a house. My wife and I are still looking for a place to settle down. There’s nothing for us right now.

Are a lot of your belongings in a storage facility?

Yes, they are. We pay for the storage. The income that we have is from my pension, federal and Anglican Church, because I’m retired.

How long have you been without a home now? When did this start after your retirement?

After my retirement two years ago, we went to rental housing. We rented a house until the owner decided to sell the house, and we had to move out and lived in a hotel for a couple of weeks. Then my daughter found staff housing, so we moved in with her.

That’s been our situation since October, maybe September. We were supposed to move out in November. The boss who owns the restaurant, I think he’s over in England somewhere and can’t get back to Canada because of the pandemic.

How much time does it take up for you to try and find housing?

For all the time since I’ve retired. It’s stressful not having a residence ourselves.

What’s your current mental state? It’s got to be exhausting having to go through all this, especially during your retirement.

Yes, it is exhausting. But I find things to do like translating the Bible and stuff like that. That keeps me busy every day.

Have you learned anything from this experience of being homeless during retirement?

Income is very scarce in the church in the Arctic, because of the high prices. [Costs of] living are very high here in the North. A lot of people from this area have moved down south because of very [high] expenses. I heard on the news that Iqaluit has the highest shortage of housing, and they’re very expensive houses. Some houses can sell for up to $1 million.

Iqaluit in winter. Photo: Tokyobear/Wikimedia Commons

The homes that are allotted are for people who are coming in from the south. We, the Inuit, are set aside as second-class citizens. We have a lot of multicultural people here in our city, and we have lots of Filipinos and people of colour. For the whites, they’re given the first choice of homes, and Inuit come third in the society.

We are beginning to be like a minority, Inuit, in our own place. That’s how we feel. They give choices to the people who are coming in from the south to find jobs. Lots of Filipinos come here for jobs because there is no employment in their own country. The haves and have-nots are real here.

Do you ever speak to retired Anglican clergy in southern Canada about your respective living situations?

Not really, no. Even our bishop [David Parsons] has said that he cannot retire in the North because he cannot find a place. He has to move down south again when he retires. So many of our people from Iqaluit—Inuit—have moved to Ottawa, because they can afford housing down there.

What do you think needs to be done about this situation?

Well, they’re talking about it a lot in legislation. The shortage of housing in the North is being talked about, and there’s nothing being done. It’s in the talking stage. Every MLA who is elected always talks about a shortage of housing in the North and how expensive it is.

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the MP for Nunavut, has been talking about this a lot in Parliament.

Yes, even our Nunavut government has been talking about it too.

But just talking so far, it seems.

That’s still in the talking stage, yeah. There’s hardly anything done.

What are the obligations of Christians to address these issues and tackle the problem of homelessness?

In the Bible, [among] new Christians in Acts, they shared their wealth around with the Christian fellowship. It has to be something like that, at least [as] I see it. We have to help one another to survive.

That seems to be a part of the Bible that often gets overlooked.

Yes. It’s hard to save up here in the North with your salary, because [the cost of] living is very high here. Prices of food are very high. You have to live almost by [your] salary every month, and you spend it all. It’s hard to save up for the future. If you want to buy your own house, you have to save up.

The fact that you’ve been willing to share your story with the Journal, I feel, has opened up a lot of people’s eyes to how serious the housing crisis in the North. How do you feel about sharing your story publicly with Anglicans across Canada?

I think it’s good to open their eyes and see what really concerns us as retired clergy in the North.

I have to find another job. The Anglican Church pension is very good and federal pension is not very good. We have to subsidize [them] by working some and getting some income other than the pension sometimes. Just like having to buy a vehicle to move around in the city—I’m still on call sometimes. Even though I’m retired, people call on me to give them counsel and do funerals, whatever. Sometimes they ask me to do a marriage, and things like that, even though I’m not parish clergy anymore.

Have you started looking for a secular job yet? You’re already spending so much time looking for a home and now you have to look for a new job as well.

Yes. There are some jobs that provide housing. For instance, the RCMP is looking for someone to be on the desk to answer any emergency calls in both languages. Sometimes Inuit call in for help from the police and the police don’t understand because they cannot speak the language. There’s a call for someone to do that who is bilingual and can answer their call.

They asked me to be a school counselor as well in the high school. Things like that are popping up.

Are you close to taking one of these jobs?

I’m doing the Bible translation right now. When that’s finished, I can go into one of these secular jobs.

Obviously you’re in a difficult situation. Retirement is supposed to be a time when people can relax.

Not in my case [laugh]. I don’t relax, because there is a lot of shortage of clergy in the Arctic. Some communities have to use lay church leaders instead of clergy, because there’s so much shortage of clergy. I can go into a community and be interim priest for a while. But moving around is very expensive, too, in the North.


  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

    [email protected]

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