New Brunswick

Advocates press province for solutions as time runs out on Fredericton shelter

Eighteen days remain to figure out what to do when Fredericton's out-of-the-cold shelter closes and people are left with nowhere to go.

Cities of New Brunswick Association, City of Fredericton have written to province seeking plans, action

The former bishop's house on Brunswick Street was converted into a temporary out-of-the-cold homeless shelter in November. (Philip Drost/CBC)

Eighteen days remain to figure out what to do when Fredericton's out-of-the-cold shelter closes and people are left with nowhere to go.

Adam Lordon is mayor of Miramichi and president of the Cities of New Brunswick Association. The association has written to the Minister of Social Development calling for the establishment of permanent shelters. (Bridget Yard/CBC News)
The Cities of New Brunswick Association sent a letter to Minister of Social Development Dorothy Shephard dated March 5 calling on the province to create permanent shelters.

"While there's an immediate need to identify what's going to happen on the ground in Fredericton and Moncton on April 1 there's also a broader need across the province to say maybe we need a very thoughtful strategy on this — on homelessness, on subsidies, on rent supplements and on affordable housing which is a big issue in every community across the province," said Adam Lordon, president of the association and mayor of Miramichi.

Shephard said there have been challenges finding new locations for shelters.

"We've run into some hurdles … so we're going to need some help from the community," she said.

The hurdles, she said, are coming from the municipal side. 

Dr. Sara Davidson, a physician at the downtown community health centre, has been working closely with many of the city's homeless people at the Brunswick Street shelter this winter.

She's optimistic a solution can be found before the April 1 deadline to close the building for zoning reasons.

"I don't think in two weeks that people are going to be back out in the cold," she said.

While she and her colleagues, along with patients who are homeless, wait with "bated breath" for the province's housing strategy plan, Davidson said she is encouraged by the thought that government may be listening.

But it would be helpful if more homeless people could talk to government about their experience staying at the shelter, especially during the discussions of what steps to take next.

Dr. Sara Davidson's patients include people staying at the shelter. (CBC)

"I wish I were a fly on the wall in some of those conversations … or actually be someone invited to the room to have a full discussion along with some of my patients."

Davidson said she was heartened by the community and government response this winter, something she said she's never seen before in Fredericton.

"There's been some amazing policy changes that have happened and we want people to understand this has been very powerful."

Mayor Mike O'Brien told CBC News this week that the city asked the province for a coherent plan for what's next by the end of the month but never heard back.

No representatives from the province attended CBC New Brunswick's forum in Moncton on Tuesday about homelessness.

The Cities of New Brunswick Association sent a letter to the Department of Social Development on Wednesday, warning that if the province doesn't step in, the closure of the emergency shelters will mean dozens of vulnerable people will be back on the street.

Dorothy Shephard, the minister of social development, said in February that the housing plan has faced hurdles as the province negotiates with the federal government. (CBC)

"Without provincial leadership, the fear is that these individuals, many who have mental health and/or addiction issues, will have no other option," reads the letter. 

Shephard said in February that the province has funding in place until April 28 for the Fredericton out-of-the-cold shelter. 

"The city imposed a March 31 deadline in the planning and advisory committee application," Shephard said at the time.

Zoning issues were a problem when the community worked hastily to set up the shelter last fall.

The department has previously said an affordable housing plan will be released when ready. Shephard said in February that the province's housing plan has faced hurdles as the government negotiates with the federal government over how the money is used.

Davidson said much attention has been given to the emergency shelters because of the housing crisis, but it's important to remember those shelters are short-term solutions for a complicated problem.

"A true emergency shelter isn't a place where people are living for months and months and months at a time, which is what we currently have, " Davidson said.

"If the way forward were easy it would have already happened."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton and Lauren Bird


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