Homeless Moncton woman finds temporary apartment, still praying for N.B. Housing unit

After a six month "emotional roller-coaster" living in homeless shelters, Karen Brooker is looking forward to finally having a safe apartment that she can afford.

"I'll be able to shut my door at night and sleep and not worry about anything," the 59-year-old Moncton woman said.

Brooker shared her story with CBC News in December. She and a roommate had been sharing a downtown apartment, but when the property owner completed some renovations, the rent went from $800 to $1,200 per month.

With no affordable housing available and 5,000 people on the waiting list for New Brunswick Housing units, Brooker had no choice but to sleep at the House of Nazareth homeless shelter.

Last week she was offered temporary, subsidized housing at the Moncton YWCA, a non-profit group that provides supportive housing programs.

Brooker, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and receives $763 per month, won't be able to move in until Feb. 1 when she is able to pay her first month's rent and a $100 damage deposit.

She will pay 30 per cent of her gross income, or approximately $230 per month for rent. While it is a big improvement over the homeless shelter or couch-surfing, Brooker said her new home is still temporary. And she won't be able to bring her cat, Sassy Girl.

"I'm grateful that I'm getting a place but it's still frustrating because I just want my stuff out of my storage unit and I want my life back," she said. "I really need my cat to be with me." 

'I couldn't do it no more'

Brooker spent more than four months at the House of Nazareth homeless shelter on Clark Street before being moved to the new shelter on Albert Street in early December.

The new, larger space will eventually have 115 beds, but currently can accommodate 30 women and 34 men while construction continues.

It's been plagued by delays but Brooker said when the new women's dorm opened, she was hopeful it would be a bit more comfortable.

Vanessa Blanch/CBC

"Very nice there at the new place — clean and a lot more space. The beds are a little more comfortable than what they were at the other place."

But Brooker said it quickly became unbearable to live at the new "wet" shelter, which allows people who are using drugs and alcohol to stay alongside those who are sober.

You don't want to sleep because you're scared to death that something is going to happen to you or that someone's going to do something to you. - Karen Brooker

"There was a lot of drama, a lot of tension. I ended up leaving twice at 4:30 in the morning, once in my pyjamas, because I was so upset."

Brooker, who doesn't drink or use drugs, said there are separate wet and dry areas planned for the men at the new shelter, but all of the women are together.

"You don't want to sleep because you're scared to death that something is going to happen to you or that someone's going to do something to you," she said.

"When people are on drugs you don't know how they're going to react."

The third time Brooker left the shelter in the middle of the night she knew she "couldn't do it no more."

She has been couch-surfing ever since.

"I just don't get it. Why they're allowing the people in there doing drugs?"

No plans for separate women's dorms

Jean Dubé, executive director of the House of Nazareth shelter, said there have been "minor incidents" but there are no plans to have separate dorms for women who are sober and those using drugs.

"Right now I don't think it's going to be necessary but if it does become [necessary], we will adjust," he said. "We don't have any problems up there right now."

Shane Magee/CBC

Dubé said there are currently three staff on duty between the Clark Street location and the Albert Street location during overnight hours.

While it's not permitted, Dubé knows people are consuming drugs inside the shelter.

"These people have addictions — do we let them do drugs inside the shelter? No. But are we finding drugs flushed down the toilet and syringes? Yes we're finding that."

Dubé says it's either throw those who don't follow the rules out into the cold, or try to work with them. He is choosing the latter.

"It is a shelter for people with addictions and serious issues so yes there's people consuming inside for sure."

He hopes the provincial government will soon have addictions and mental health services on site when the shelter is complete.

Praying for a permanent home

Brooker, who turns 60 in December, is hoping that as a senior citizen, she will move up the waiting list and have a better chance at getting an N.B. Housing unit.

Shane Magee/CBC

According to a 2018 government report, there are 3,789 public housing units in New Brunswick. Approximately 45 per cent are occupied by seniors and 55 per cent are occupied by families.

The same report found that there were 5,000 individuals on the waiting list in 2017, which means only 42 per cent of eligible individuals were being served.

Brooker fears she will be on the waiting list for years.

"I am praying so that's why I'm asking everyone to pray for me," she said.

N.B. Housing units allow tenants to have pets and that's a pretty big deal for Brooker. Her cat keeps her calm and loves her unconditionally.

"I'm scared I'm going to lose my baby and with my post-traumatic stress disorder, she's my companion, she means everything in the world to me."

A shame that's lifting

Despite everything she has experienced as a homeless woman over the past six months, Brooker still considers herself lucky.

My shame is less … I feel the weight off my shoulders just to know that I'm going to have my own place to sleep in, that I'm going to be safe. - Karen Brooker

For now she is relieved that she won't have to sleep in a shelter any longer.

"One step forward until I can get my permanent housing," she said. "I just feel so much better knowing that I don't have to sleep there anymore."

In December, when Brooker first spoke with CBC News, she described how she's been treated, and how she's felt since becoming homeless.

"It's been despicable what people do. It's hard to explain how shame feels and I shouldn't have to feel shame just because I can't afford a place to live."

Now she said, she is feeling better.

"My shame is less … I feel the weight off my shoulders just to know that I'm going to have my own place to sleep in, that I'm going to be safe."

According to the Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee, there are currently 85 women and 76 men experiencing homelessness in Moncton.