The Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation announced last Friday that it will be holding information sessions this week about the proposed facility, which has not been officially confirmed by the provincial government, for Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
“We know there is pent-up need and demand for this facility. We know the community is supportive, but we recognize there are still outstanding questions,” said John Abbott, Minister Responsible for the Regional Crown Foundation.
The city has been dealing with a growing transient population, many of whom live in wooded trails. The city estimates that 80 people live on the trails, up from 20-25 in 2017.
According to NL Housing data, Happy Valley-Goose Bay—although it accounts for about 1.6 percent of the NL population—is home to about 21 percent of the county’s shelter users.
The NLHC said service groups in the city also report that 90 percent of shelter guests self-identify as Indigenous. Abbott said he hopes the facility will be built soon to meet demand.
“We’d like to see shovels in the ground in the spring, and it will probably be a year and a half before we can open the facility,” Abbott said.
The proposed facility will be a two-story U-shaped with 30 bed accommodation, 20 one-room apartments, 20 one-bedroom supportive housing units, laundry, laundries, showers, commercial kitchen, cultural space, senior support, clinic space, common room and a multi-purpose space.
But the design — and the cost — wasn’t finalized. Abbott said the county is still working with architects and engineers on the size and amenities to be offered.
“It will certainly be a multi-million dollar project, but we are in the process of finalizing those numbers for the government,” Abbott said.
Dorothy Bay-Johnson, chief executive of the Nonatukavut Community Council and a member of the county team that drew up the plans, said the facility could help with some of the root problems in the area.
“Having access to these types of services is instrumental in an urban setting where we have…younger Indigenous populations struggling with international trauma, mental health issues, addictions, even economic crises,” said Bay Johnson.
Bay-Johnson said these issues are not isolated to any indigenous group and are not new
“We have hope that in time, with the right approach, the right facilities and joint efforts, we can make a difference and hopefully break these cycles in the long term,” she said. “We’ve been under these influences for a long time. So it’s not something we’re going to fix overnight.”
Bay-Johnson said there are public safety concerns in the community, but the long-term facility is still needed.
“It’s a minority of people out there causing these problems,” Bay-Johnson said. “Not everyone is a public safety issue and we can’t just bury our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not happening.”
“I’m just telling people to try to be part of the solution, not part of the complaints department.”
Abbott said the homeless shelter workers in the town will move into the new shelter, along with staff from other services in the community.
“We don’t anticipate any particular challenge at this point in terms of staffing. Many of the positions will be in a support role and we know there are people who are more than willing to take on these positions as they become available,” Abbott said.
Abbott said concept drawings, dashboards and a floor plan will be available across town. Abbott said they will submit a formal application to the city council as well.
The county land in the tree nursery along Hamilton River Road was chosen because it is located on a major road, close to existing services, and can accommodate the volume of the building. He said the location would also allow them to expand services on nearby lands as needed.
Read more about Newfoundland and Labrador