As temperatures begin to drop in Fredericton, local shelters and advocates for those experiencing homelessness are urging municipal and provincial officials to develop a long-term affordable housing plan that will help get people off the street.
On Tuesday night, Fredericton city council passed a resolution authorizing the mayor to send a precautionary letter to the provincial government about deadlines for the zoning approvals needed to set up temporary winter shelters.
New Brunswick Minister of Social Development Dorothy Shephard was not available for an interview with Global News. But she said in a statement that a plan addressing the shortage of winter shelters is forthcoming.
“We are currently in the process of finalizing the finer details of the plan for the coming months and will announce those details soon,” she stated.
To provide long-term funding for affordable housing, the provincial government signed a 10-year, $300-million agreement with the federal government earlier this year to implement a strategy called A Home for Everyone.
The strategy proposes the construction of 922 units for individuals, families and seniors in need of housing as well as “300 housing options” for the homeless by 2029.
However, advocates such as Shelby MacIntyre, who works with the Fredericton John Howard Society, says that the affordable housing outlined in the plan is not being built fast enough.
That has resulted in tent cities and temporary shelters being established every spring and winter.
“We have moved in 46 people into subsidized housing just since April. Looking at last year, from April to April, it was half that for the whole year,” MacIntyre said, adding that there is an urgent need for more affordable housing units to counter the growing number of people joining waitlists for shelters and affordable housing throughout Fredericton.
Tim McKnight, who has been periodically homeless for years, just moved into a new affordable housing apartment on the north side of Fredericton. He knows what it’s like to sleep on the street during the bone-chilling winter months in New Brunswick.
“I did whatever I had to do. Sometimes, I would crash out on couches, and it was just mustering enough to start out was impossible,” McKnight said.
As part of the Home for Everyone strategy, a new housing project on Saint Mary’s Street opened on Oct. 1. Funding for the Saint Mary’s Street apartments came from United Way, the John Howard Society and the provincial government, and the City of Fredericton also waived permit and water hookup fees.
The housing project has four units and cost $245,000 to build.
It’s male and female tenants range in age from their 30s to their 60s and many have experienced homelessness like McKnight, who said having stable, affordable housing provides peace of mind.
“It’s 30 per cent of my income, which means I will be able to afford this, and there is also contingencies in there that if I run into some sort of hardship, there is some flexibility,” said McKnight.
However, making the transition to living in a private residence can be a challenge as people experiencing homelessness can face obstacles when accessing necessary support services.
McKnight credits his time at St. John House, a shelter for men, with assisting him in finding a place to live.
“I wasn’t aware of how to get into housing or any of the resources available,” said McKnight.
For this reason, St. John House is also open during the day to council shelter users on how to receive social development assistance as well as nutrition and dental care.
“The reason we use that model is because it enables us and other community partners to work with the individuals to get appointments set up with mental health or addiction, social assistance or whatever the case may be,” said Warren Maddox, executive director of Fredericton Homeless Shelters Inc.
“Affordable housing is absolutely critical, but more than just four walls and a heating system, you have different stages of support that’s required — for some individuals very little, for some individuals a lot.”
For now, the 40-plus men and women living on the street in Fredericton will have to wait to find out what the province has in store.
McKnight says he can only offer this advice: “Hang in there, hang in there. Do what you can.”