Moncton church opens doors to homeless after COVID-19 case at shelter warming centre
House of Nazareth opened as warming centre this week but began turning people away Tuesday evening
A Moncton church opened its doors Tuesday night to give people a place to escape bitterly cold weather after they were turned away from a warming centre.
The City of Moncton announced late Monday that House of Nazareth, with assistance from the John Howard Society, would serve as a temporary warming centre for anyone not already registered to stay at the Albert Street shelter.
However, Trevor Goodwin of the YMCA's ReConnect street outreach service said people were turned away that evening.
"People were being sent there and turned away," Goodwin told Information Morning Moncton on Wednesday.
Zineb Elouad, House of Nazareth's director general, said in an email to CBC News that the shelter had reached its occupancy limit.
She said there were also new "directives" from Public Health that affected the shelter after a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the start of the week. The shelter dealt with an outbreak with dozens of cases last fall.
"We will no longer be able to open doors for these individuals to warm up at the shelter for health safety measures," Elouad said.
Bruce Macfarlane, a spokesperson for the province's Health Department, said in an email that mass testing is required at the shelter. He said Public Health directed the shelter to "pause" movement in and out of the facility for now.
Goodwin said with the doors closed, they needed to move quickly to find a place for people to stay. Environment Canada reported a low of -23 C on Tuesday.
Goodwin went to St. George's Anglican Church on Tuesday evening to discuss the issue. The church already offers breakfasts, laundry and showers to people who are homeless. It had been preparing to open as a warming centre before House of Nazareth was picked earlier this week.
Rev. Chris VanBuskirk said he happened to be at the church for a grief support meeting when Goodwin arrived. He said three people were already under tarps on the chapel steps when Goodwin came to talk to him.
VanBuskirk said the church opened its doors and nine or 10 people stayed for part or all of the night.
"We were so fortunate that we were able to react last night and it was a question of timing that Father Chris happened to be at the church and ready to go home, but decided that he would stay for the night and let people come in and warm up," Goodwin said.
Goodwin said he spent most of his evening driving around redirecting people to the new location. Some weren't interested in going inside, he said.
He said there are some people who already have a heating source or a structure and only need some supplies to help them get through the night. Others don't want to go to shelters because they've experienced traumas like assaults.
"It's chaos in there, it's not a calm, quiet place," he said. "Some folks, they don't want to go back there."
Others have been banned by a shelter because of their behaviour or drug use. Together with shelters at or near capacity, some people have been forced to stay outside.
There have been several calls over the last two months to Moncton's fire department and the RCMP for homeless people who have started fires on sidewalks or near building doorways to stay warm.
"Unfortunately, the temperatures are getting colder and therefore the people who are unwelcome or banned from the homeless shelters are cold, so they're trying to stay warm," Codiac Regional RCMP Staff Sgt. Patricia Levesque said on Dec. 30.
Goodwin said some of the people he recently spoke with don't want to go to House of Nazareth because the building's heating system isn't functional on its second floor where there are dorm-style beds.
"They would rather stay in their tent where it's quiet and warm in their tent than it be cool and chaotic in the dormitory," he said.
Elouad said Tuesday it may take several weeks before a part of the heating system can be replaced. Space heaters are being used to try to keep the area warm.
Goodwin said he hopes that instead of needing to be reactionary, a plan can be put in place to keep people safe.
"It just needs to be a place where people can get out of the elements and be warm, warm themselves up," Goodwin said.
VanBuskirk also said communication between various groups assisting homeless people is important.
Isabelle LeBlanc, a spokesperson for the City of Moncton, said late Wednesday that Harvest House, the city's second main homeless shelter, will offer a warming centre for the next few days.
"We are now working with the partners to find a way forward for the entire winter. We don't have all of the answers yet," LeBlanc wrote in an email, saying the city is in contact with the province's Social Development department.
With files from Information Morning Moncton and Jonna Brewer