The need is there but money isn't: group pushes for Miramichi homeless shelter

·4 min read

Miramichi Youth House has stepped up and started the process to bring a homeless shelter for adults to the Miramichi.

The group's mandate is to provide services to youth ages 16 to 19. The youth house, running under executive director Samantha Fairweather, provides overnight shelter beds, low cost housing and an outreach program. But Fairweather, like many others working in the sector in Miramichi, sees a desperate for services for adults.

"Unfortunately, it just seemed that nothing was being done, nothing was coming to life," she said.

"So that's where we were inspired to create the project manager position."

Samantha Fairweather/submitted
Samantha Fairweather/submitted

Fairweather applied to Reaching Home, a federal grant program, and received funding to hire someone.

Kaitlin Carroll left her job as a social worker with Horizon Health to become the project manager of the homeless shelter.

"It was something that I felt very passionate about," said Carroll.

She said exact numbers are hard to come by, but working with different agencies in the region, she estimates there are anywhere from 40 to 80 people experiencing homelessness.

"We have folks sleeping in wooded areas in tents, cardboard boxes (and) other types of shelters, sleeping in condemned buildings, cars, breaking into places to stay warm, bank vestibules." said Carroll.

Samantha Fairweather/submitted
Samantha Fairweather/submitted

And then there are the people who are less visible, those who are couch surfing.

"That is the urgent need that is boiling over in our community," said Carroll.

She said Miramichi Youth House receives calls on a weekly basis from people looking for a place to stay.

After doing a survey of the province and country to see what has worked in other centres of a similar size, Carroll decided the place to start is a six to eight bed shelter, set up in a retrofitted house. The shelter would be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Carroll said the Department of Social Development has made an NB Housing unit available, but Robert Duguay, director of communications with the department said the location is still up for discussion.

"We are still having discussions to determine how the province can support this initiative," he said.

"The type of support will depend on the specifics of the project, funding by other levels of government, as well as stakeholders and the needs identified within the community."

Carroll said funding is the barrier every step of the way.

She said operational costs are covered, but salaries have not, and Carroll said a number of grant requests have been written and different groups in the Miramichi region have been approached.

She'll know by February if the applications were successful, so the best case scenario is the shelter is open in March.

"We're ready to press the go button," she said.

Kim Harris/submitted
Kim Harris/submitted

It can't happen soon enough for Patricia Michaud, executive director of the Miramichi Emergency Centre for Women.

Her shelter would normally have 12 beds for woman and children fleeing domestic violence, but since COVID restrictions came into affect, only seven spaces are available, and they are all currently full.

Michaud said the shelter receives five to 10 calls a month from women who fall outside her mandate, and she can't accept them.

"It's horrible and we hate doing that," she said, adding that exceptions are sometimes made but it depends on how much space is available.

"There's always been someone trying to open up something, trying to get a homeless shelter because we've helped them with stats and things like that, but it's never come to fruition," said Michaud.

"It's desperately needed."

She said she's spoken to Carroll, and has seen how far the project has come in a short time and is hopeful it will happen.

But Carroll isn't stopping at a shelter because she understands it's not a solution to the problem. The next step is affordable housing.

Miramichi has a 1.3 per cent vacancy rate, much lower than Campbellton's, a city of comparable size, whose vacancy rate is 4.2, according to Statistics Canada.

"There's a lot of luxury townhouses and apartments, but not a lot in the affordable housing range," said Carroll.

She said it's too early to go into details, but the group is also working on two affordable housing developments, one on each side of the Miramichi River.