Safe Harbour youth shelter to close due to lack of funding

Safe Harbour, Saint John's emergency and transitional housing facility for youth, will be closing its doors on Jan. 29 due to a lack of funding, the board of directors announced on Friday.

10-bed facility In Saint John opened less than a year ago but can't maintain operations, says board

Safe Harbour, a 10-bed shelter for homeless youth that opened less than a year ago, will be closing on Jan. 29, due to a lack of funding. (Neville Crabbe/CBC)

Safe Harbour, Saint John's emergency and transitional housing facility for youth, will be closing its doors on Jan. 29 due to a lack of funding, the board of directors announced on Friday.

The 10-bed facility, which opened in the city's south end less than a year ago, is no longer in a financial position to maintain operations, secretary and treasurer Kit Hickey told CBC News.

"There's absolutely no question, the board of directors is completely devastated by this," said Hickey.

Staff, who have received layoff notices, are trying to find alternative housing arrangements for the seven males and two females who are currently staying at the facility.

Kit Hickey, secretary/treasurer of Safe Harbour, says she's 'astounded' by the provincial government's refusal to provide a loan guarantee in order to keep the doors open while fundraising efforts continue. (CBC)
Hickey said the board has no choice but to close after the provincial government rejected a request for a loan guarantee to cover a capital shortfall of about $550,000 caused by last winter's harsh weather and contamination found on site, she said.

The board needs the loan guarantee in order to have a lien filed by the contractor lifted, said Hickey.

Otherwise, the board can't continue its fundraising efforts.

The government has also denied a funding request of about $200,000 — approximately half of the annual operating costs, said Hickey.

We are completely aware of the financial difficulties that this government is faced with, but … this cannot be considered expenditure. This is an investment in the youth of our community.- Kit Hickey, Safe Harbour secretary and treasurer

"We are somewhat astounded at the decision that has been made and at a complete loss as to why," she said.

"We are completely aware of the financial difficulties that this government is faced with, but as we have maintained from Day 1, this cannot be considered expenditure. This is an investment in the youth of our community," Hickey said. 

"The savings that are achieved as a result of this small investment are realized rapidly and substantially."

The 10-bed facility in the city's south end has been operating at, or near, capacity since its third week of operations, according to the board of directors. (Submitted)
The shelter has been operating at or near capacity since its third week of operations — often with a waiting list, said Hickey.

Youth aged 16 to 24 can stay for short-term emergencies, or up to six months, when needing time to transition to permanent housing.

Case managers also help youth access mental health and addictions counselling, as well as educational and employment opportunities.

"Our concern is that our youth will be lost again," said Hickey. "There's nothing else for them. Nothing."

Social Development minister offers assurances

In an emailed statement, Department of Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers said she wants to "assure the people of the Saint John region that the department … will immediately engage with residents to ensure their needs are met."

It was the Regional Development Corporation that declined Safe Harbour's request for a loan guarantee, according to Rogers.

"There is no available program to support the request," she said in the statement.

The Department of Social Development had given Safe Harbour conditional approval for funding under the Shelter Enhancement Program, said Rogers.

"To date, however, the group was unable to demonstrate it has met the conditions for funding," she said, without elaborating on what those conditions are.

About 55 youth have already used Safe Harbour in the past 10 months, said Hickey, noting that the majority of them have either returned to school or remained in school.

"I think that's one of the greatest achievements that we can talk about, above and beyond the fact that we were able to ensure they had safe, secure housing," she said. "We know that education is absolutely crucial to being able to move out of poverty."

The board will continue to work with stakeholders and funders to try to avoid closure, or be able to reopen as soon as possible, said Hickey.

The two-storey facility on Broad Street has 10 bedrooms, a living and dining room, kitchen, games room, library and quiet room.

Construction began in October 2014 and the facility welcomed its first residents in March 2015.

The facility is located on the former site of St. James Anglican Church, which was donated by the Anglican diocese, after sitting vacant for seven years.


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