New Moncton homeless shelter partially opens after delays

House of Nazareth partially opened its new homeless shelter in downtown Moncton on Monday, three months later than initially expected.

Advocates and city officials hope the shelter will provide a place to go for some of the 115 people who live on the streets in the Moncton area. The figure doesn't include those staying with friends and relatives or people already in shelters. 

The shelter's second floor, with 30 beds for women and 34 for men, opened shortly after supper time Monday following an inspection by the fire marshal. 

"It really feels good," Jean Dubé, executive director of House of Nazareth, said Monday about what he called a soft-opening. "I was anxious to get this thing going."

The charity planned to move 20 people from its smaller shelter on Clark Street over to the Albert Street building. It plans to allow more people into the Albert Street shelter over the coming days as well as filling the vacant spaces on Clark Street.

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When the shelter was announced in May, Dubé said the Albert Street site would be partially open in early August and fully open by November with 120 beds.

However, the opening was delayed pending the fire marshall's approval of the charity's architectural plans. There were also delays related to renovating the two-storey building, which had previously been a gymnasium. 

The first floor, which includes a drop-in area and a separate space for other beds, won't open until construction of a kitchen is complete. The fire marshall must also conduct a second inspection. Dubé said he hopes the first floor will be open before the new year. 

"I'm confident we can do that," said Dubé, adding that kitchen wiring and plumbing is complete but that an air handling system still needs work.

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Dubé said the hope is to increase the capacity to 120 people, though the final figure will be set following another fire inspection. 

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold said the city is happy to see the shelter partially open. 

"It's a great relief to know that 60-plus beds will be open," Arnold said following a council meeting Monday.

Coun. Greg Turner said he had visited the shelter earlier Monday as people were making beds and doing final preparations to accept people. 

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Turner said the opening will help Harvest House, another homeless shelter, which was strained as cold weather set in and people needed a place to escape the street.

Residents and businesses had called on the city to deal with homelessness after tent cities popped up around the Moncton area over the spring and summer. 

A large tent camp where about 45 people lived was established along Albert Street not far from the new shelter. The city initially allowed it to remain while waiting for the shelter to open.

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As concerns about crime mounted, the municipality changed its approach and began demolishing the tent camps, which shifted people to other locations in the city.

A number of those staying in tents had expressed discomfort with the rules and practices in place at the two existing homeless shelters in the city, including House of Nazareth's Clark Street location.

More lenient rules were in place at a temporary shelter set up between December and April on Assomption Boulevard. Dubé has indicated the new shelter will use some of those more lenient rules for its Albert Street location. 

The shelter is expected to be divided into four zones once fully open. One shelter, for men, won't allow people who have consumed drugs or alcohol while another men's zone will be more permissive. The two zones for women will have similar rules as the men's. 

Dubé said he hopes to partner with the province to offer on-site counselling and addiction services, however it's not clear when those services will be in place. 

"Is it going to be ready when we open downstairs? I can't tell you that because I'm not the one making those decisions," he said.

Seeking more funds

The building was purchased with $480,000 in joint federal and provincial funding. Dubé said last month that the cost to open the shelter, including buying the building, is around $1.3 million. 

The organization plans to ask the municipality for additional funding.

"We'll be kicking on some doors," Dubé said.