As a polar vortex descends on much of the United States, sparking concern for those without a warm place to go, neighbors to the north have repurposed a former bishop’s residence as a temporary shelter for the winter. This past fall, the Anglican Church of Canada’s Diocese of Fredericton offered the six-bedroom residence to use as an overnight shelter for those experiencing homelessness in their city, which is the capital of the province of New Brunswick. At the time, they estimated that there were 35 people sleeping on the streets in the city of approximately 60,000.
The residence, known as Bishop’s Court, has been mostly empty for the past eight years after then-bishop Claude Miller and his wife vacated the home. In the intervening years, it has been rented occasionally and was used as housing for a student discipleship group, but had no permanent use. When it was made known that there is such a significant need for housing in the city, David Edwards, Bishop of Fredericton, and the diocese decided to offer the property for use as a shelter.
Although the plan was originally set to take effect on November 29, the city announced on that day that the property was not properly zoned to be used as a shelter. The house is located in one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods; a report submitted by city planners noted:
“The property is within a stable low density neighbourhood, which serves as the ‘eastern gateway’ to the downtown, characterized by large elegant residential style buildings on large lots. Certainly, this would not be an appropriate location for this use on a permanent basis, and staff would not support a rezoning for it to be there long-term…”
The report also noted that, despite zoning issues, there was support for the project and an urgent need for housing and therefore suggested that Bishop’s Court be allowed to be used as a shelter temporarily during the coldest months of the year and until a more permanent solution could be found. The shelter opened in mid-December and has been operating at full-capacity, housing 20 individuals at a time. The shelter will continue operating until March 31.
Meanwhile, a local housing advocacy group, the Community Action Group on Homelessness, is working toward a more permanent solution for housing issues in the Fredericton community. They hope to build 50 small housing units in the next year to help those experiencing long-term homelessness find a permanent place to live.