An emergency shelter has opened in Saint John, N.B., to accommodate the city’s growing homeless population as the temperatures continue to drop.
Nick Shepard, an outreach co-ordinator with the Salvation Army, said when they opened for the first time on Monday, about 20 people used the shelter.
“We figure that by the end of the week with the weather getting a little more frigid and word of mouth that we’ll be full,” Shepard told Global News in an interview on Tuesday.
Housed inside the shuttered Hilton Belyea Arena on the city’s west side, the project has received funding from the provincial and municipal governments.
Shepard said the maximum capacity is 40 people, which increased from the original figure of 35 due to the need. Each night a bus operated by the City of Saint John will transport people from the Salvation Army’s Prince Edward Street location to the arena.
“It can be somewhat of a transformative experience when you are literally tenting for weeks at a time — you’re not able to shower, not able to bathe yourself, not able to get a good night sleep.”
The number of homeless individuals in New Brunswick has grown exponentially over the last year. According to the Human Development Council, in October, 133 people were experiencing homelessness.
However, Shepard believes the real figure is much higher because many people experiencing homelessness choose not give their name.
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As of late, Shepard said there has been an influx of individuals who had never experienced homelessness before who are now in need of aid.
Read more: N.B. minister ‘taken aback’ by calls for prompt action on provincial homeless shelter plan
“The majority of those individuals are people who have just never experienced this before, and with rising rent increases, and inflation and things like that, yeah, we’re dealing with a lot of first timers,” he said.
Looking at the larger picture, Shepard said they have effectively doubled available shelter beds in the city, yet they are still far from the number needed.
“It’s going to save lives, quite frankly, this winter, and we hope, though, out of this comes a more permanent solution, more investment in subsidized housing or affordable housing.”
The shelter is expected to continue operations until the end of March. If weather is rough, Shepard said they could possibly keep the doors open into April.