Two Saint John homeless shelters forced to move by COVID-19 crisis
Shelter spaces were not able to maintain social distancing
Both of Saint John's homeless shelters are being moved this week in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Outflow men's shelter on Waterloo Street has set up shop at the Boys and Girls Club on nearby Paul Harris Street, while the Coverdale Emergency Women's Shelter will move to a middle school in east Saint John.
A lack of space for social distancing is the reason given for both moves.
"The women are sleeping in bunk beds, four of them to one room in a couple of rooms," said Crystal Scott, shelter director at Coverdale.
The new accommodation will be a school gymnasium which is currently being equipped by the Canadian Red Cross.
The shelter will have beds for 15 women.
The much bigger Outflow Men's Shelter moved its 30 beds into the Boys and Girls club gymnasium Monday evening, which director of shelter and housing Tony Dickinson described as "a good night."
The men found a hot meal waiting for them from Linn Chau Restaurant which, for several years, has been supplying the shelter with Monday night meals.
Dickinson says the COVID-19 crisis is placing a lot of stress on shelter clients who have very little security in their lives.
"Homelessness on a good day is stressful," said Dickinson. "So you are adding two significant stresses to people's lives at the same time."
Those words are echoed by Diane Kearns, the needle exchange program director at Avenue B Harm Reduction, which is just a few doors away from both shelters.
She said that with malls and libraries closed, there are few places the homeless can go during the day.
"You don't realize how much people rely on the kindness of others sometimes," said Kearns. "Often going in to get a coffee or a meal or things like that allow people to warm up as well, or dry off. So now they can't go in and sit down anywhere."
Staff at Avenue B have cut back their hours to three days a week but made arrangements for needles to be picked up on any day at Guardian Drugs in Prince Edward Square Mall.
Kearns said they don't want clients to find themselves in situations where they feel they have to share needles.
"We want people to be safe. So we're encouraging [them] to take an excess of supplies for others who are maybe not able to get out. And so anything we can do to get people what they need to stay safe on many levels."