The dichotomy between wealth and poverty in the City of Fredericton is undeniable. When I first moved to Fredericton the cab driver at the airport told me, “oh Fredericton is a really white collar place.” Being the capital of New Brunswick comes with an obligation to keep the community beautiful and pristine. Every year community members and stakeholders are confronted with the decision to either ignore the tents that pop up along the banks of the river or to facilitate a solution. We create task forces, we install “kindness meters”, corporate sponsors donate to charities and during the cold months the donations and fresh baked goodies come flowing in.
Yet, as we allocate more funds to beautifying the downtown core, and building more and more luxury condominiums this dichotomy between material wealth and the lack of places for people to shelter from the sun, snow, rain, cold, and heat is harder and harder to ignore. In March, the Fredericton City Council banded together and closed the doors of the Phoenix Learning Centre, a vital outreach resource centre for people experiencing homelessness in the Fredericton area. The Phoenix was a kind of sanctuary for anyone who need shelter from the elements during the day time hours.
Places like the Phoenix Learning Centre provide essential services such as access to washrooms and showers when you feel dirty. The loss of the Phoenix Learning Centre has once again brought to the forefront the debate about where people who experience homelessness should be allowed to congregate. Congregate to close to a store and you become a loiterer or a vagrant. Pitch a tent to close to a upscale neighbourhood and you are nuisance. Open an outreach centre for individuals experiencing high barrier homelessness and you become a threat.
One of my professors at St. Thomas University once lamented to our class that sports are the opium of the masses and asked us to imagine a world where mass collaboration could lead to combating poverty and the ongoing housing crisis. When effective collaboration and genuine solidarity are facilitated, change can happen. Yet, solidarity does not always achieve the goal of creating a community rooted in inclusion and social justice. In the end, the Phoenix bit the dust, giving way to further debate about whether it was the right or wrong decision. And while thinking about the state of my community, I wrote this poem.
By: Joshua Allen
Beyond the Delta
beneath the Royal Suite.
Bricks and mortar form a windowless fortress,
closed off from the world,
shielded from the outside.
It used to be a Kingdom hall
but now it serves as a safe haven,
a heterotopic in-between.
Nestled among affluent estates,
and neatly groomed lawns with
red and green signs
In the foreground,
exposed to the elements,
grocery cart space ships,
a do-it-yourself convoy of mobile homes
with tarps for sails
and bungee cords for ropes
Nomadic wanderers wearing six layers of clothing,
riding bicycles like clowns skating on slush and sleet
People drive by to watch the show and sneer
Not in my backyard,
send them to work on the farms
“send them anywhere but here”
Joshua Allen, a recent graduate of the Bachelor of Social Work program at St. Thomas University, worked at the Phoenix Learning Centre before it closed due to the community of Sunshine Gardens pressuring the city of Fredericton to not approve a zoning amendment to keep the drop-in centre for the homeless open.