35 people to be affected by closure of Phoenix Learning Centre, says coordinator

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Scott Earle, coordinator of the Phoenix Learning Centre, said 35 regular guests of the shelter will no longer have a place to use the washroom and take showers during the day. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC News - image credit)
Scott Earle, coordinator of the Phoenix Learning Centre, said 35 regular guests of the shelter will no longer have a place to use the washroom and take showers during the day. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC News - image credit)

Thirty-five people could be potentially left on the streets with nowhere to go during the day when the Phoenix Learning Centre closes.

The centre on Woodstock Road will be forced to shut its doors, and the 35 clients it serves regularly will have no other options for sheltering from the weather or taking a shower during the day, said Scott Earle, coordinator of the daytime drop-in centre.

"When we do close the doors, there's no public washroom, there's no public showers, there's no safety, there's no security," said Earle, speaking on CBC's Information Morning Fredericton on Thursday.

"There's no areas where they can go congregate. There's nothing. And I'm not saying that lightly. There is absolutely nothing."

On Monday, Fredericton city council voted unanimously to deny granting a zoning amendment that would allow the centre to create supported housing units in the building, with councillors citing concerns around the proximity to homes and complaints from residents about the people who use the centre through the day.

The vote also meant the drop-in centre would have to close, as it never had the proper zoning to operate the way it currently does.

Finding new location a challenge

The decision has Earle on the search for a new location to house the centre, but he said it's been difficult to find something.

The centre's Woodstock Road location drew criticism from residents of the Sunshine Gardens neighbourhood, with many complaining that people would wander into their backyards, use drugs and leave discarded drug paraphernalia on the streets, and urinate in public.

The Phoenix Learning Centre on Woodstock Road was the target of complaints from neighbouring residents, who said its guests would trespass on their property and use drugs in public.
The Phoenix Learning Centre on Woodstock Road was the target of complaints from neighbouring residents, who said its guests would trespass on their property and use drugs in public.(Google Maps)

Earle said the centre was originally located on King Street, in the same building as the Riverstone Recovery Centre, which is a drug treatment centre that opened last year.

He said the centre only had a capacity of 10 people there and it also became the target of complaints from the downtown business community, which prompted its move to the Woodstock Road location.

Earle said an ideal location for the centre would be in the Victoria Health Centre, which is the location of Horizon Health Network's Fredericton Addiction and Mental Health Services offices.

"Being able to be at the [Victoria Health Centre] with the [St. John House] shelter there and kitchen and mental health and addictions and no neighbours backed on right to your property seems like an ideal location for me," he said.

'Some things were a little out of our hands'

When the zoning amendment request first went before the city's planning advisory committee, residents living near the centre submitted dozens of letters of objection, along with some letters of support.

Earle said some complaints, such as people walking on the street to access the centre, are problems that could have arisen anywhere.

"Some things were a little out of our hands. Like when people urinate [in public] when there is absolutely no bathroom anywhere in the city," said Earle, adding the centre brought in porta-potties to try to alleviate the issue of a lack of public washrooms.

Earle also said he doesn't think the various levels of government have done enough to try to solve the problem of homelessness, adding he thinks it's only going to get worse.

At the same time, he thinks this will be the year the non-profit community gets all levels of government together to substantially address the issue.

"I'll never say they'll stamp out homelessness, but I can guarantee you we're going to put a dent in it."