Public's response to wintertime homelessness gave hope to front-line workers at summit
Affordable housing top of mind for those struggling to keep New Brunswickers sheltered
People working on the front lines of homelessness across the province spent Wednesday sharing their challenges and successes at a time when the vacancy rate in some places is as low as one per cent.
Affordable housing dominated the conversation, but it remains just one of a variety of constant challenges for shelter managers, volunteers and support staff who gathered in Fredericton for the annual Community Advisory Board Summit.
"It's a common theme, but it's not just housing," said Greg Bishop, an organizer and project manager with the Human Development Council in Saint John.
"We do know that connection to other services, particularly with mental health and addictions, are also important. Having staff. Building relations with people who are housed can remain housed and have a network of support."
Many giving presentations on Wednesday said there has been a feeling of hope and optimism since concerned citizens and communities rallied for more support systems before out-of-the-cold shelters opened for the winter.
But there were several warnings that what was described as a "housing crisis" is nowhere near over and is possibly getting worse.
"We have about 400 houses in the downtown area of Moncton that the fire department has identified could be shut down because they're not habitable, they don't meet code," said Joanne Murray, executive director of John Howard Society of Southeastern New Brunswick.
"And what's happened in the past with landlords or homeowners is when they're served papers to spend between $5,000 or $10,000 to bring it up to code the owners have said 'forget it, I'm done, it's not worth it to invest that money so I'm just going to walk away or sell the property.'
"That's 400 buildings with 10 to 20 people living in each one of them," said Murray.
She said she and her team are working with landlords to try to keep some of the properties open.
Smaller groups invited
For the first time in the four-year history of the summit, volunteer groups and workers from smaller northern communities such as Bathurst and Miramichi were asked to join representatives from Saint John, Moncton, and Fredericton.
"We're here today to gather information, hear stories from other people who have started at that grassroots level to try and address this issue," said Kaitlin Carroll, representing a small group in Miramichi working to help the homeless.
"Miramichi has a vacancy rate of less than one per cent, so we're in a crisis state."
Some people are constantly teetering between having a home and homelessness, she said.
"With the unemployment rate that we have, there are people that are chronically episodically homeless," Carroll told the group.
Bishop said coming together gives a better idea of how workers are dealing with homelessness on smaller scales, as well as larger ones.
"It's an event that brings service providers and members of the community advisory boards together to basically network. Share notes, talk shop, make contacts. If people don't have answers, they will at least know where to go to get them."
The summit leads into the New Brunswick non-profit housing association's annual conference, which takes place on Thursday.