New Brunswick

Campbellton needs shelter, not 'Band-Aid' fix, says mayor

Campbellton is in dire need of an emergency shelter, according to the city’s mayor, who says the provincial government needs to step in and fill a void that’s lingered for more than a decade.

Campbellton has been without a homeless shelter for more than a decade

Campbellton has been without a homeless shelter since 2005, when the men's shelter was destroyed by fire. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Campbellton is in dire need of an emergency shelter, according to the city's mayor who, says the provincial government needs to step in and fill a void that's lingered for more than a decade.

Establishing an emergency shelter for the city's homeless is near and dear to Stephanie Anglehart-Paulin's heart. She helped her husband establish Campbellton's first shelter in 1998.

Anglehart-Paulin said 128 people came through its doors before the couple handed the shelter over to a board of community members almost two years after it opened.

That men's shelter burned down in 2005 and has never been replaced.

The provincial government responded by funding a regional non-profit group, the Restigouche Residential Agency, which offers outreach support, according to the Department of Social Development.

The agency uses the funding to "provide food, clothing, rooms, bus tickets, referral to various community and government services, and help to find housing," the department said in a statement.

The model is employed in communities without shelter for people who are homeless or are on the edge of homelessness. Miramichi also uses the model.

Campbellton Mayor Stephanie Anglehart-Paulin says the provincial government should step in and establish an emergency shelter. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

But Anglehart-Paulin said it fails to meet the need.

"It's a Band-Aid," she said.

"It's just to get them to the next bus stop, and that's not what we need."

'The demand is so high'

Luc Chiasson, a provincial outreach worker in the city, said he often sends clients to Bathurst or Moncton and sometimes books them a night in a hotel in emergency situations.

However, the demand in the northern city of 6,900 is high. A 2015 report from the Human Development Council said Campbellton had the highest overall poverty rate among New Brunswick cities, at 24.2 per cent, and the highest child poverty rate, at 33.9 per cent.

"The demand is so high," Chiasson said. "If you call me two times in a month, there's the possibility I can help you just the once because, you know, I can't help the same ones all the time and there's always a new one coming up."

Invisible problem

Rachelle Ouellette, executive of the Restigouche County Volunteer Action Association — the city's food and clothing bank as well as community kitchen — said homelessness is hard to see in Campbellton, but there are many without shelter or are on the brink.

"It's not because we don't see homeless people like in the bigger cities, begging for food and money on the sidewalk, that they're not in our community," she said. "They definitely are. Where they find shelter is beyond me."

Food bank executive director Rachelle Ouellette says the homeless in the city may not be visible, but they exist. (CBC)

The community kitchen will serve a meal to upwards of 1,300 to 1,400 people a month — a third of whom are children, she said.

Ouellette said it's common for the association to have to turn away people seeking shelter.

She said men can sometimes find a bed at a shelter across the bridge in Pointe-à-la-Croix, Que., but it's geared to people with addiction issues.

Women can try the Maison Notre Dame, but it's a shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence. The shelter's director, Donna Cormier-Pitre, said most often they refer women seeking shelter to outreach services.

Patricia Michaud, executive director of the Miramichi Emergency Centre for Women, explained how her shelter faces the same problem. It's a transition shelter for abused women, but they often make exceptions for women needing a roof over their heads.

Michaud recently told CBC News that Miramichi is in dire need of a homeless shelter before something tragic happens, especially during a season of severe winter weather.

Brick and mortar needed

Anglehart-Paulin said the city needs a suitable, brick-and-mortar facility that eliminates the daily search for shelter and food and allows homeless people to easily access support services and have a fixed address.

And it's the province, she said, that should fund the shelter if it wants to alleviate high poverty in the city.

She said it's an issue she hopes to solve during the final quarter of her four-year term as mayor.

"That's one of my last things on my check-off list, even if it's two beds," she said.

"If we don't get our people out of poverty, we won't change the cycle. It's a whole bunch of pieces that have to be put together to [break] that cycle for them, but it starts with a clean bed to sleep in at night."