Mark Leger said he wants to involve community members in the decision to locate a youth homeless shelter at the old St. James Anglican Church.

A Saint John community group is looking to use a historic church as shelter for more than 100 homeless and at-risk youth in the city.

The Greater Saint John Homelessness Steering Committee wants to build a 10-bed shelter at the site of the old St. James Anglican Church on Broad Street.

Mark Leger, the committee's co-ordinator, said the massive stone church has sat vacant for years and needs too much work.

So the committee's plan is to preserve the facade, have a courtyard area and a new building behind the church.

Leger said he understands these plans could become contentious in the community, so he said he wants to give the public the chance to ask "hard questions."

"We know that these kinds of projects can be controversial, which is why we're really laying the groundwork here because we don't want to surprise this community," Leger said.

"We want to listen to their concerns. We want to answer their questions."

A public meeting will be held Tuesday night at the St. John the Baptist/King Edward School.

If all goes well, Leger said he hopes to have funding in place for the shelter by the fall and be ready to open within two years.

'A real opportunity'

Leger said the project is "a real opportunity" to pay respect to the history of the church and find another use for it.

The proposed shelter offers a chance to make use of the historic building and help some of the city's homeless and at-risk youth, according to one Saint John youth worker.

Colin McDonald said there are services available, but homeless youth need a safe place to stay to get their lives on track.

McDonald works with some of the city's troubled young people.

He recounts a story of a homeless 16-year-old who was taken in by drug dealers, a situation that has become all too familiar in the city and can be avoided.

"Before he knew it, I mean he was just, in deep - had got himself addicted, had got himself in tons of dangerous situations, and actually eventually ended up in jail," he said.

"These youth, they need to be invested in and they need to have someone treat them like they matter, and that they're valuable and that we believe in them."