New Brunswick

Fredericton's emergency shelter earns approval to stay open all winter

Some Fredericton residents can breathe a sigh-of-relief after the city's planning advisory committee agreed to keep the recent out of the cold shelter running until spring.

The city's planning advisory committee has extended the temporary shelter until March 31, 2019

The Bishop's Court shelter on Brunswick Street has been converted into a temporary homeless shelter for the winter. (Philip Drost/CBC)

Some Fredericton residents can breathe a sigh of relief after the city's planning advisory committee agreed to keep the new out-of-the-cold shelter running until spring.

"Just so relieved, just really jubilant," said Faith McFarland, community development co-ordinator with the Community Action Group on Homelessness, after Wednesday's meeting.

"If it hadn't gone through it would've created a crisis on top of a crisis."

The overnight shelter, located at 791 Brunswick St., will operate until March, 31 of next year. 

Faith McFarland, community development co-ordinator with Fredericton's Community Action Group on Homelessness, presented to the city's planning advisory committee, along with a full gallery on Wednesday evening. (Gary Moore/CBC)

The property was donated by the Anglican diocese of Fredericton to the Community Action Group on Homelessness last month to alleviate the number of people sleeping on the streets this winter.

But a zoning bylaw regarding the number of unrelated people staying inside a house delayed the shelter's opening.

To address the urgency of the situation — including November's abrupt drop in temperatures — a temporary alteration was made to open the shelter before council had a chance to hear from the public, a normal process when dealing with a situation like this.

Overwhelming public support

About 80 people attended Wednesday night's meeting to hear the decision from the committee and offer their input. It was an overwhelming show of support from the dozen or so people that addressed the committee.

David Gray lives on George Street and estimated his house is about 120 metres from the shelter.  

The local resident wanted to show his support for the shelter because he's heard some concerns over the shelter's location in the neighbourhood.

"I asked my neighbours to open their hearts, just a tiny bit, so that people that are less fortunate than we are will have a warm place to sleep," he said

Some concerns next door

Catherine McCain and her family live next door to the shelter and raised some concerns at Wednesday's meeting. 

McCain spoke about the volume of people who will be staying at the shelter, and not knowing the people staying there.

Catherine McCain and her family live next door to the new shelter. McCain says she's worried her daughter could step on needles around the family's home. (Gary Moore/CBC)

"My concern is needles. I can't see needles." McCain told the committee. "I'm concerned my daughter can't see the needles."

McCain said she doesn't want to see anyone out in the cold, but questioned the location of the shelter and suggested the Fredericton Public Library, or city hall as alternate locations.

"We do have millions of dollars of public property that are empty every night that are not in residential zones," she said.

The shelter can house up to 20 people and will operate from 8 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., seven days a week.

Since the beginning of December, 35 people have relied on the shelter since it opened, which has been at 100 per cent occupancy for the past eight days.

So far the people who have stayed at the shelter are 60 per cent male, and range between 18 and 70-years-old.

McFarland said she promised to keep open communication with the neighbourhood and hold monthly, private meetings with people in the area to talk about any issues regarding the shelter.

Since the shelter's opening, McFarland said there also haven't been any police or visits from Ambulance New Brunswick. And there haven't been any complaints from neighbours. 

A Band-Aid solution

The committee was clear on its decision that the shelter at Bishop's Court is not a long-term solution. Instead, the building is being used as a temporary location to buy community groups more time to find an appropriate long-term solution.

Although McFarland is relieved by the committee's most recent decision, she said there's still a lot of work to be done.

About the Author

Gary Moore

CBC News

Gary Moore is a video journalist based in Fredericton.

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