Nfld. & Labrador

Funding fast-tracked for temporary homeless shelter at Gathering Place in St. John's

"Everyone will be accepted as they are," said Premier Dwight Ball as he announced $732,000 will be used to convert an existing space into a low-barrier emergency shelter for the homeless.

Concerns for homeless population grew amid pandemic

Premier Dwight Ball announced $732,000 for a temporary shelter to be located at the Gathering Place in St. John's on Tuesday. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Citing worries about the COVID-19 pandemic, the Newfoundland and Labrador government said Tuesday it will spend $732,000 to help a St. John's non-profit convert some of its space into a temporary emergency shelter for the homeless.

The temporary 30-bed shelter at the Gathering Place will be staffed seven days a week and open from 8 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. It  should be ready by September, ahead of a potential second wave of COVID-19, Premier Dwight Ball said during a news conference on Tuesday.

Ball told reporters that Gathering Place co-chair Sister Elizabeth Davis highlighted the need to fast-track a low-barrier shelter in May, as concerns for the province's homeless population were rising because of COVID-19. 

The terms of the shelter will mean that there will be no conditions, such as sobriety, for someone to seek shelter there. 

"Everyone will be accepted as they are," Ball said.

"What we have identified going through the pandemic … there were a number of people that were very vulnerable in our society and quite frankly we were not appropriately equipped to actually deal with an outbreak of COVID-19 in that pandemic. So action was required."

The deal with the Gathering Place — a St. John's-based community organization that helps those facing homelessness, addiction and mental health issues  — came through the province's all-party committee which includes MHAs from each of the province's political parties.

Joanne Thompson, the Gathering Place's executive director, said Tuesday's announcement ensures the homeless population will have a safe space to sleep in the event of a state of emergency, like January's massive blizzard, or another wave of COVID-19. 

"This is a housing-first model, and as a community of service providers we have much to celebrate," Thompson said. 

The temporary shelter will be located in an existing space inside the Gathering Place in St. John's while the provincial government plans a permanent solution. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Temporary solution

End Homelessness St. John's was also on board for Tuesday's announcement. As the federal entity under the Reaching Home Initiative, executive director Doug Pawson said Tuesday's announcement comes as an addition to the federal government's response to homeless aid during the pandemic

"As a result we've invested in supporting those who require isolation due to COVID-19 in a myriad of ways, notably securing safe hotel spaces," said Pawson, adding that several institutions and community groups teamed up.  

"The announcement here today of a temporary low-barrier shelter is an important first step toward developing a permanent solution that will replace the need for private shelters where we see our most vulnerable neighbours languish." 

The Gathering Place in St. John's provides services such as meals, health care and clothing for residents in need. In September, it will be the home of a 30-bed temporary shelter.. (Paul Daly for CBC)

Ball said the shelter at the Gathering Place is a temporary solution that will help guide the design and programming of a future permanent low-barrier shelter. End Homelessness St. John's will be a part of those consultations. 

A government news release said a request for proposals will be issued through Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. within the coming week.

Ball said the permanent shelter will take about two years to build.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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