Fredericton residents feel confident that they have successfully organized to keep the Out of the Cold Shelter, also known as Marshall House, open in the capital city’s downtown.
On November 18, the City of Fredericton’s Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) met to discuss the fate of the Out of the Cold Shelter on Brunswick Street.
The John Howard Society of Fredericton and the Fredericton Downtown Community Health Centre organized to open an Out of the Cold Shelter at Bishop’s House two winters ago when it became clear that dozens of people needed shelter in the province’s capital. Last November, John Howard purchased a building at 332 Brunswick St. and the Out of the Cold Shelter was moved there.
At the PAC meeting, Justin Young from John Howard asked for a one-year temporary use variance to keep the Out of the Cold Shelter open until November 30, 2021, and for a zone amendment to allow a homeless shelter to exist at the 332 Brunswick Street location for five years.
Several people spoke in favour of the John Howard Society’s application, including Joan Kingston, a nurse and the chair of the Fredericton Community Action Group on Homelessness.
Kingston said the pandemic has resulted in a lack of public washrooms and public spaces for people to use. She said people need supportive housing.
“Since November 2019, the ultimate goal has been to transform 332 Brunswick Street into several small units of supported housing. Access to supported housing is what is missing in Fredericton at this moment. Individuals experiencing homelessness who also face serious challenges regarding mental health and addictions do not have access to the type of supported housing that they need,” said Kingston.
Valerya Edelman is a social worker and the peer worker coordinator at the Riverstone Recovery Centre. She also spoke in favour of the application.
“The Out of the Cold Shelter has a positive impact on the community. We have fewer people sleeping on the streets and people get connected to services through the shelter,” said Edelman.
PAC said the Avalon Spa, located next to the shelter, had complained to the city about people threatening their staff and clients.
To mitigate the concerns of the shelter’s neighbours, John Howard said they built fences, added lights to the parking lot, and changed the way they intake people. Young said that John Howard would continue to address concerns brought forward by the shelter’s neighbours.
The organization would like to turn the Out of the Cold Shelter into supportive housing as soon as possible for people who need assistance.
Bruce McCormack with Downtown Fredericton Inc. said he has a view from his window of the Fredericton Downtown Health Centre and the Out of the Cold Shelter.
McCormack called the tent city by the Downtown Fredericton Health Centre “an eye sore.” He thinks the shelter needs security and that Avalon needs to call the police more. He supported the one-year temporary use variance with conditions.
John McDermid, councilor for Ward 10, said the shelter is important and that the complaints need to be addressed.
McDermid said that he does not want to discuss whether or not to have the Out of the Cold shelter open every November. PAC unanimously voted in favour of amending the application from a 1-year to a 3-year temporary use variance. The application now needs to be approved by city council at their meeting tonight, November 23.
PAC said that they got a lot of letters about the shelter from Fredericton residents. Earlier in the day, Dr. Sarah Davidson had tweeted about the meeting.
Out of the Cold Shelters exist in many cities to provide housing to people during cold winter months.
In New Brunswick, people have died of exposure during the winter.
The province of New Brunswick implemented a non-disconnect electricity policy in 2006 after Paul Durelle, 53, died from organ failure after a month of living in his unheated home in Baie-Ste-Anne. Durelle, a diabetic, was living on social assistance and could not afford to pay his electricity bill.
Julia Hansen, a nurse with Solidarité Fredericton who helped organize a rally in support of affordable housing on the FREX grounds on October 1, says all levels of government need to better coordinate when it comes to meeting housing needs.
“Fredericton City Councilors have excused their lack of action on housing by saying it is outside their purview. However, Moncton has provided an example of collaboration with the province on housing,” said Hansen.
“Rising Tide is a not-for-profit in Moncton working to purchase and operate 125 supportive housing units by 2023. Funding will come from both the city and the province. What is Fredericton doing to collaborate with the province on housing?” asks Hansen.
Tracy Glynn is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.
With files from Valerya Edelman, Robert Sheidow and Julia Hansen.