A Labrador community in desperate need of housing solutions for a growing transient population got its first look this week at a proposed multimillion-dollar facility that advocates hope will begin construction in the spring.
Last Friday, the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation announced it would be holding information sessions this week about the proposed facility, which has not been formally confirmed by the provincial government, for Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
"We know there's a pent-up need and demand for this facility. We know that the community is supportive, but recognize that there are still questions outstanding," said John Abbott, minister responsible for the provincial Crown corporation.
The town has been dealing with a growing transient population, with many living in the wooded trails. The town estimates 80 people live on the trails, up from 20-25 in 2017.
According to N.L. Housing's data, Happy Valley-Goose Bay — despite representing about 1.6 per cent of N.L.'s population — is home to about 21 per cent of the province's shelter users.
The NLHC said service groups in town also report that 90 per cent of shelter guests self-identify as Indigenous. Abbott said he hopes the facility can be built soon to address the demand.
"We would like to see literally the shovels in the ground in the spring and that it will take probably a year and a half of construction before we would be able to open up the facility," Abbott said.
The proposed facility would be two floors in a U-shape with 30 shelter beds, 20 one-room apartments, 20 one-bedroom supportive housing units, laundry, washrooms, showers, a commercial kitchen, cultural space, elder support, clinic space, a common room and a multipurpose space.
But the design — and the cost — has not been finalized. Abbott said the province is still working with the architect and engineers about the size and amenities that will be offered.
"It's going to be a multimillion-dollar project for sure, but we're in the process of finalizing those numbers for the government," Abbott said.
Dorothy Pye-Johnson, CEO of the NunatuKavut community council and a member of the provincial team that created the plans, said the facility could help with some root issues in the area.
"Having these types of services are instrumental in an urban setting where we have … younger populations of indigenous people experiencing international trauma, mental health issues, addictions and even economic crisis," Pye-Johnson said.
These issues are not isolated to any one Indigenous group and are not new, Pye-Johnson said
"We do have hope that in time, with the right approach and the right facilities and a joint effort, that we can make a difference and hopefully break these cycles in the long term," she said. "We've been under these influences for a long time. So it's not something we're gonna fix overnight."
Pye-Johnson said there have been concerns about public safety in the community but the long-term facility is still needed.
"That's a minority of the people that are out there that are causing those issues. Not everybody is a public safety issue and we can't bury our heads in the sand and pretend this is not happening," Pye-Johnson said.
"I just ask people to try to be part of the solution, not part of the complaint department."
Abbott said the staff at the town's Housing Hub homeless shelter would migrate to the new one, along with staff from other services in the community.
"We're not foreseeing any particular challenge at this point in terms of the staffing. Many of the positions will be in a support role and we know there's people who are more than prepared to take on those jobs when they become available," Abbott said.
Abbott said the concept drawings, information boards and floor plan will be available through the town. Abbott said they will be making a formal application to the town council as well.
The provincial lands at the tree nursery along Hamilton River Road were chosen because they're on a main thoroughfare, near existing services, and can accommodate the size of the building. He said the site would also allow them to expand services on the grounds nearby as needed.