The provincial NDP is calling on the Newfoundland and Labrador government to start a task force exploring the use of for-profit emergency shelters.
In a letter to Premier Dwight Ball dated Nov. 26, NDP Leader Alison Coffin discusses a recent meeting she attended with residents of the Bond Street area.
On Nov. 5, a 23-year-old man was killed at the intersection of Bond Street and St. David's Lane, near a for-profit shelter, and at the meeting residents spoke about their experiences over the last few years and how they felt about the homicide that took place outside their doors. Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) Chief Joe Boland, Ward 2 Coun. Hope Jamieson and local MHA Jim Dinn also attended the meeting, according to the letter.
“A person has died. The time for collaboration is now," Coffin stated in a news release. "It is crucial that we work together to address the underlying causes of complex housing needs, and that we take a co-ordinated approach involving government, community organizations and concerned residents to find a solution."
“A person has died. The time for collaboration is now." — Alison Coffin
In her letter, Coffin asked the premier to form a task force to work toward identifying measures to address housing problems in St. John's related to poverty, mental illness, addiction and other issues. She suggested a community representative and someone from the governent could co-chair the task force, with further representation coming from community agencies, Bond Street area residents, senior officials from relevant provincial government departments and the City of St. John's, MHAs and council representatives, for-profit emergency shelter stakeholders and others as identified by the task force.
Coffin stated the time period for coming up with recommendations should be one to two months, and work to engage those with an interest or stake in the matter who are not part of the task force.
Children, Seniors and Social Development Minister Lisa Dempster met with residents in the area to hear their concerns. Another meeting, on Nov. 22, saw Dempster meet with non-profit shelters to hear their suggestions for improving the system.
According to a statement issued by the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. (NLHC), another meeting is being scheduled with more government officials present to hear concerns.
"As a government, we are taking action to improve our response in partnership with our stakeholders and are approaching the issue with openness and eagerness to do more and better," reads the NLHC statment.
"We are open to working with our partners to improve housing solutions. Minister Dempster will be inviting MHA Coffin in for a meeting to discuss the proposal, and will be consulting our community partners on the proposal as well as they are on the front lines and can best advise on the path forward."
Jamieson says concerns about the shelter on Bond Street were well known, and city hall and the RNC were planning a meeting about the shelter when the incident occured.
"There's some pretty intense and pressing safety concerns that I'm hearing from folks who live there." — City of St. Kohn's Coun. Hope Jamieson
She says incidents at the shelter were almost daily.
"There's some pretty intense and pressing safety concerns that I'm hearing from folks who live there."
Jamieson says for-profit shelters are inspected every six months by the city as part of an agreement with the NLHC. The shelter on Bond Street was inspected two months ago, with another inspection ordered since the incident. Jamieson says the city only has jurisdiction over the properties, not what happens within.
She says she supports the call for a task force.
"I hear a lot from residents in cases when individuals who really require intensive case management and wrap-around support are living in the community without those supports," she said.
"That's when we see these situations arise. That's when we see conflict."