As Saint John's new transitional house opens, some women are still left behind

Amy Melanson, 32, is living with addiction and sleeping on the streets of Saint John. 'I know I'll be fine once I'm not homeless anymore,' she said. (Julia Wright/CBC - image credit)
Amy Melanson, 32, is living with addiction and sleeping on the streets of Saint John. 'I know I'll be fine once I'm not homeless anymore,' she said. (Julia Wright/CBC - image credit)

When Rose House — a long-awaited 12-unit transitional house for women — opens at the end of the month, a dozen fewer women will be sleeping on the streets in Saint John.

The "micro-suites" come fully furnished, with everything from laundry facilities and private patio space, to groceries and handmade quilts.

"Everything they need to make them feel welcome," said Mary Saulnier-Taylor, executive director of the Coverdale Centre for Women. A peer mentor and staff will provide support, and there's no limit on how long women can stay.

Women will pay 30 per cent of their income, which typically works out to about $150 per month, with heat, lights, Wi-Fi and cable included.

It's a major project for Coverdale, which has been serving vulnerable women and children in the community since 1975.

Julia Wright/CBC
Julia Wright/CBC

But not everyone is a good fit for Rose House.

There are almost 70 women on the by-names list in Saint John — a tool used by local social services agencies to keep track of who's sleeping rough or precariously housed.

Many are living with addiction, and face unique forms of violence once they become homeless, including higher rates of involvement in human trafficking, according to the Women's National Housing and Homelessness Network

"There's so much homelessness that is hidden, that we're not aware of," said Saulnier-Taylor.

"Currently in Saint John, we do have tent cities and women who are accessing services but may not be on the list. Sometimes for women, just because of privacy or trauma, they don't want to share their situation."

'Nobody cares'

Amy Melanson, 32, is one of the women who feel they've run out of options. She's been homeless since her September arrival in Saint John from Saskatoon, where circumstances had made her afraid for her safety.

She's encountered violence in Saint John as well.

"I've watched people almost get stabbed," said Melanson, who uses fentanyl and has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder." I've watched people get punched in the face. I've been punched in the face on Christmas Day."

WATCH: Tour the new affordable 'micro-suites' for women in Saint John:

She said she's been kicked out of multiple shelters for reasons that "didn't make sense" to her.

"I've been sober many, many times, and I thought it was going to be sober forever, but there's no way out of it here," she said. "Like, no landlord will rent to you and the only reason is you're on social assistance.

"That's, like, prejudice and they just don't care. They don't care. Nobody cares."

Only a beginning

Melanson's words are bleak.

There are many social service organizations working to address homelessness in Saint John, but for cases such as Melanson's, the options aren't inclusive or plentiful enough.

Coverdale's emergency shelter has only 10 beds. While there are other options, like the newly opened emergency shelter at the former Belyea arena in west Saint John, they aren't able to take in everyone. Others, like Outflow Ministries, serve men only.

New supportive housing at Rose House is "a beginning," according to Saulnier-Taylor — and the community, and all levels of government, have rallied behind it. When Coverdale was racing to raise $400,000 in two weeks or lose $2 million in grants, the community stepped up, donating more than $150,000 to a crowdfunding campaign.

The Saint John Regional Development Corporation contributed another $400,000, in addition to $1.4 million from the federal Rapid Housing Initiative, and $480,000 from the provincial Department of Social Development, plus 12 rent supplements for 20 years equalling $1.4 million.

But even with that level of spending, Saulnier-Taylor said, more work is urgently needed to protect people at all stages of their journeys with addiction and homelessness.

Melanson believes any solutions to the housing crisis will arrive too late to help her.

"I've heard about a lot of things, but I mean, most of it's just bullshit," she said. "I'm sure there's something opening up, but I'm not too excited about anything.

"I just don't have much hope. I don't even care anymore."