One of the growing pains that comes with opening a new hub for the homeless in Fredericton is that people don't know exactly what the hub does, said Lindsay Norcott, the homelessness services manager at the John Howard Society
She said the Ironwood Resource Centre, which opened on Dec. 4, is intended to be a "housing-focused resource centre."
Norcott said she understands the confusion when people are used to talking about "warming" or "drop-in" centres — especially when Ironwood allows people to drop in and warm up.
But she said it was never intended to be a warming or drop-in centre.
Norcott was asked for clarification after Green Party Leader David Coon raised concerns about the centre turning people away.
Last week, Coon said a man who had gone to the centre to warm up told him he was asked to leave after falling asleep in a chair.
The Ironwood Resource Centre is a hub for homeless people in Fredericton that operates out of a wing of the Victoria Health Centre on Brunswick Street. (Ed Hunter/CBC)
Norcott and April Sullivan, the manager of the Ironwood Resource Centre, said that wouldn't happen.
Sullivan said people are free to use the space "as they need."
Norcott said, "The only concern may be if the nodding off is making them fall over, then they might be woken up to readjust so that they're not falling off a chair, which would then make it unsafe for them."
Both insist that no one's ever been asked to leave because they've fallen asleep.
Norcott said "there's always going to be people that — no matter what service you're providing — they might not agree with how it's being done."
She did confirm the part of the story where Coon was told that pets are not allowed.
She said it's for safety reasons. Other people might not react well to pets, and the pets may not react well in that environment. She believes only one person has ever been turned away because of a pet.
"We don't have the ability to make the space safe with a pet in the area," said Norcott.
Mandate hasn't changed
Sullivan said the centre's mandate has not changed. She said it's always been intended as a resource centre focused on getting people ready for housing.
"Yeah, it's always been that," said Norcott. "The main idea was that people had a space to come and help get document-ready and, you know, have the ability to speak to staff if needed, if there's any crisis, if there was any help that was needed on guiding through any of these systems and if somebody just needed to talk."
Despite the specific mandate, Norcott said the staff won't turn anyone away if they just want to come in and get warmed up.
She said "people can still come in if you're respectful and you're engaging with staff and you need a space, you need a snack, coffee. No one's going to ask you to leave."
She said it's "never been an issue" for people to come in just to get warm for a while.
"The John Howard mandate would say never leave anybody outside in the cold."
Hub not just a seasonal operation
Norcott also wanted people to understand that the centre is going to be open around the clock throughout the year, regardless of the temperature.
"This is going to be 24/7 full year. So we're trying to make sure that that is understood — that this is a resource centre that is going to continue past whatever weather there is."
That, she said, is a new concept.
"No matter what time of the day, somebody can come in and speak to somebody and get some answers or get some direction. And up until now, it hasn't existed except for in the winter or the summer," said Norcott.
Showers are planned, but still under construction for the site.
Since it opened on Dec. 4, people have stayed on average about 30 to 40 minutes. They use the centre at all hours of the day, said Sullivan.
Often, said Sullivan, staff are helping them get "document-ready for housing." That could involve getting identification, or connecting with case managers at the Department of Social Development.
She estimated that 43 per cent of people living rough in the area are now document-ready for housing.
But neither knew how many have successfully found housing.
Inherent mistrust of new services
Norcott said there's "a lot of mistrust within the unhoused community" for new services, but she's confident they'll eventually see the centre is an open and welcoming place.
"So I think it's on us to prove ourselves — to prove that this is actually what we're doing, that we're open 24/7, that people are safe, it's a clean space and that there are resources available for them.
"So I think the onus is now on us to prove to them that we provide what we say we're going to."
So far, Norcott said, she believes word of mouth among homeless people has been positive because the number of people walking through the doors has exceeded her expectations.