N.L. government planning new 30-bed emergency shelter in St. John’s

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador is looking to relieve some pressure from the emergency shelter system with the addition of a new 30-bed shelter somewhere in St. John’s.

The province — through Newfoundland and Labrador Housing — issued a request for proposals Tuesday, asking companies or registered non-profits to submit bids on a new shelter.

The requirements are to provide low-barrier emergency housing — a place where people can stay even if they are using drugs or alcohol, or experiencing a mental health crisis.

“Low-barrier shelters are designed to serve the most vulnerable individuals, who may have a range of experiences and/or are living with poverty, mental illness, trauma, addictions or challenging behaviors and as a result may face significant barriers to housing,” the request for proposals reads.

The shelter would be block-funded, meaning it would be allotted a set amount of money each year, with payments made in quarterly installations. One of the requirements is that it would be close to downtown St. John’s, where homelessness is a more urgent problem.

Numbers show spike in homelessness

For months, advocates in the housing and homelessness sector have been warning a sharp rise in shelter demand is pushing their organizations to the brink.

Numbers obtained by CBC News through access-to-information requests show how dramatic the rise has been. NL Housing periodically conducts point-in-time checks, which show how many people are staying in shelters on a given night.

On Sept. 29, 2020, there were 71 people spending the night in shelters. Two years later, on Oct. 12, 2022, the number had risen to 275 — an increase of 287 per cent.

Demand for services has more than doubled at the Gathering Place since 2019, according to executive director Paul Davis. In a recent interview, Davis said the need for emergency shelter space is also climbing at the Gathering Place and, these days, the center turns away about two people a night.

Anglican church could be new site

A moving truck with the words "Anglican Church of the Good Samaritan" on the side backs up to a building.  People are working on moving things in.
The Anglican Church of the Good Samaritan moved into 10 St. Clare Ave. in St. John’s in 2020 after a mysterious $2.5 million donation. (Anglican Church of the Good Samaritan)

While the request for proposals states the new shelter could be an entirely new building, it could end up in the Anglican Church of the Good Samaritan on St Clare Avenue.

The Anglican group moved into the space in 2020 after a mystery donor gave it $2.5 million to buy the former St Michael’s complex.

The church submitted a proposal to the City of St. John’s late last month asking for the zoning of its parking lot to be changed to allow institutional use. In the details submitted to the city, the church said it was planning to convert part of its building into a 40-bed emergency shelter.

With that zoning change now approved, any business or non-profit applying to use that site could have a leg-up on the competition. It’s not clear if the church would be applying to run the shelter, or would just be providing the space for another proponent. Officials with the church declined a request from CBC News for comment.

The request for proposals closes Feb 20. It’s not clear when a decision will be made.

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