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The former Hilton Belyea Arena in west Saint John Image: © 2021 Google

Former Arena Will Become Out-Of-The-Cold Shelter

By Brad Perry Nov 28, 2022 | 10:14 PM

A temporary solution to help the growing homeless population in Saint John during the cold winter months.

The former Hilton Belyea Arena on the city’s west side will be used as an out-of-the-cold shelter.

On Monday, Saint John council granted permission to The Salvation Army to use the facility from December through March.

The facility was shuttered in 2020 as part of the city’s long-term financial sustainability plan.

David Dobbelsteyn, acting director of growth and community planning for the city, said work on the 35-bed shelter has been ongoing for several months.

“We viewed a number of buildings throughout the city with The Salvation Army and the province of New Brunswick,” Dobbelsteyn told council. “We quickly determined that the Belyea Arena was probably the most viable building that we had access to.”

The arena was used by Public Health last winter as an emergency COVID-19 isolation shelter with “little to no impact to the local neighbourhood,” according to a city staff report.

Getting clients to the shelter

Dobbelsteyn noted that the facility is not in a central location for the homeless population, especially given its distance from the uptown core where many vital services are provided.

A Saint John Transit shuttle bus will take residents from uptown to the shelter each night, and then back uptown every morning.

As of October, the Human Development Council reported 133 people experiencing homelessness, including 48 who were known to be sleeping rough.

But Nick Shepard with The Salvation Army said that number is likely much higher as the figures only include individuals who consent to be counted.

“I myself have dozens of clients who won’t give their consent to be shared with various agencies,” Shephard told council.

Current shelters at 94% occupancy

Saint John currently has 40 emergency shelter beds between the Outflow Men’s Shelter and the Coverdale Centre for Women. The two shelters had a 94 per cent occupancy rate in September.

City staff noted that some homeless individuals “self-resolve” sleeping rough during the colder months as they stay with friends and family.

With that in mind, they believe a 35-bed shelter “should provide sufficient capacity” to house the number of people who are actively homeless.

However, they said this model is not a sustainable one and a new plan will need to be developed in time for next winter.

Shepard said he expects the out-of-the-cold shelter will be well utilized during the winter months.

“There’s quite a lot of buzz around the idea of this new shelter opening,” he said. “We fully expect we’ll be full on opening night.”

Can the shelter expand?

Several councillors asked about the ability of the shelter to expand further if the need exists.

Shephard said the shelter could house as many as 40 clients if needed, and possibly even more on certain nights.

“We definitely don’t want to be in a situation where we’re turning people away,” he said.

“If we end up with five or six extra people, that’s a conversation we can have and simply staff up for that particular evening. Maybe if it’s long-term, we have that conversation about how to get additional staff.”

It is anticipated that the province, through the Department of Social Development, will provide most of the funding to operate the shelter.

The city will be offering in-kind support, such as free rent, $20,000 toward electrical heating costs, and 250 transit tokens for clients.

Shepard said the emergency shelter will also be used to help clients come up with longer-term options for their specific situations, such as housing.

“It’s very difficult to reach someone and to be able to support them on their path, whatever that looks like, when they’re sleeping in a tent,” he said.

“Being able to have these people come in and stay in the evenings, that’s when you’re able to reach them.”

The shelter is slated to open on Thursday, Dec. 1, and remain open until March 31.


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