N.B. woman to hike Sahara desert in support of affordable housing project

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N.B. woman to hike Sahara desert in support of 12 Neighbours housing project
Watch: A New Brunswick woman is lacing up her sneakers in training to travel across the Saraha desert. It’s all in support of a housing project that is drawing national attention. Shelley Steeves reports – Jan 6, 2023

One foot in front of the other: that’s how New Brunswick’s Jenn Hayes plans to make it through one of the most gruelling treks of her life.

“I can’t imagine hiking 100 kilometres in New Brunswick, let alone the Sahara,” said Hayes.

But that is exactly what she and her husband, Dwayne Hayes, plan to do this fall. The couple will spend five days hiking in the scorching heat of the Sahara desert through a program called Charity Challenge.

“We will be looking at temperatures of anywhere between 35 and 40 degrees each day,” said Hayes.

Read more: Fredericton tiny house project welcomes final of first set of homes

Hayes is raising funds in support of a New Brunswick housing project in Fredericton aimed at getting people out of the cold called the 12 Neighbours Community.

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“I like to think of us as a little bit of a stream in the desert,” said founder Marcel LeBrun.

“Sometimes you have nothing around and all you need is a little source of water. That is kind of what we are providing for people.”

LeBrun, who describes himself as a philanthropist and a social entrepreneur, is behind the 12 Neighbours project.

Read more: Fredericton entrepreneur hopes tiny homes can help with homelessness

His not-for-profit project plans to build a community of 96 tiny homes on a 24-hectare plot of land on Fredericton’s north side.

Each 23-square-metre home has a full kitchen, a three-piece bathroom, living space and loft storage. A full-fledged neighbourhood, the community will have plenty of green and mixed-use space. It will also have a social enterprise centre with a café.

Its first residents moved into their micro-homes a year ago.

“In Canada, it is costing on average about $350,000 a door to build new housing and we are able to produce housing for less than a third of that,” said LeBrun.

Supported in part by donations from the community, the rapid housing model, he said, is drawing national attention and has been featured by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

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Read more: New Brunswick’s homelessness crisis — Housing shouldn’t be ‘deserved,’ expert says

While Hayes has never walked the path of homelessness, she believes the housing model should be expanded right across the country

“Love to have a Marcel in every community across the country,” she said, “not just getting them into homes but also to help them feel dignified and to feel loved and valued and important in society.”

While she trains, 12 Neighbours has just finished its 40th home that was placed on the site this week.

Breaking down barriers while encouraging others to set aside judgements and walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is a mindset both Hayes and LeBrun share.

“Anyone who has lived outside is incredibly resilient and is incredibly capable, because it is very difficult to do,” said LeBrun. “And now they have the opportunity to turn that energy toward helping become more independent in their lives and we just watch them go.”

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