(Republished with permission from the diocese of Fredericton eNews)
Ten months after opening to great fanfare, Safe Harbour is set to close Jan. 29 due to financial problems.
Safe Harbour is a 10-bed emergency shelter for teens and young adults in the south end of Saint John, N.B. It was built on land previously occupied by St. James Anglican Church. In addition to providing the land, the diocese donated initial start-up money for the shelter and parishes continue to support it. Two of its board members are Anglicans – Archdeacon Rob Marsh and the Rev. Jasmine Chandra.
The closure means the lay off of 14 staff and the pressing need to find alternate housing for the residents.
“We are very disappointed to have to take this step. We will continue to work with stakeholders and funders to resolve this difficult situation, and sincerely hope to be able to reopen the facility in future,” said the Safe Harbour board of directors in a press release late last week.
“It’s a pretty sad thing that this is happening,” said Bishop David Edwards, who sat on the board until last February. “Hopefully those with the ability to make things happen will ensure it doesn’t close.”
The problem stems from the $540,000 lien on the building. Not all the construction bills have been paid, due in part to construction cost overruns, a harsh winter last year, and the fact that not everyone who made earlier financial commitments to the shelter has kept them.
Construction began with the hope that the support would materialize, but tough economic times have had an impact.
With the lien in place, fundraising becomes nearly impossible, said board member and Anglican priest the Rev. Jasmine Chandra.
“Fundraising is difficult while there’s a lien. People don’t want to give to an organization that might close,” she said.
There has been no mismanagement of funds, she said. While adult emergency shelters and transition houses enjoy governmental funding, Safe harbour has run for 10 months without operational support from the province. The annual budget is $425,000, most of which pays salaries to operate 24/7/365.
The board asked the Gallant government for help to pay the lien – a grant of 100K and the rest as a loan guarantee, which means the government would act as a co-signer. A bank is ready to authorize a loan of $440,000 to Safe Harbour, so all that’s standing in the way is the $100,000 request, but the province refused.
“That baffled all of us,” said Jasmine. “We don’t understand why we got rejected.”
They’ve also asked the province for $200,000 a year in operational funding, but that too has not occurred.
The Department of Social Development told CBC news that Safe Harbour qualifies for funding under the Shelter Enhancement Program.
“To date, however, the group was unable to demonstrate it has met the conditions for funding,” said DSD Minister Cathy Rogers, who did not explain what conditions she was referring to.
The efforts to keep the shelter open, or re-open it sometime after Jan. 29, continue.
“The board is doing everything we can right now,” said Jasmine on Monday. “We had a meeting this morning to explore partnerships. But the likelihood of it closing on Jan. 29 is strong.”
If there is no success with fundraising and governmental funding, the building will have to be sold to pay the lien.
Interested citizens are holding a fundraising rally at Kings Square Wednesday evening, Jan. 20 at 6 p.m. and have begun a GoFundMe account to encourage donations. A Facebook page called Save Safe Harbour has been created.
Since its opening March 17 last year, 55 teens have been helped at the centre. More than half of them have been referred by the Department of Social Development.
In a story published in the December edition of the NB Anglican, residential manager Lindsay Gallagher said the full house since opening has proven the need.
“It’s not just that we’re full, but that there’s a wait list,” she said.
Several teen residents have returned to school and some have been able to return home – all successes because of the role Safe Harbour has played in their lives.
The average age of the residents is 16.
“We really need it to stay open,” said the bishop. “It’s necessary. It’s demonstrably necessary.”
To say that youth and intergenerational ministries director Colin McDonald is dismayed at the news is an understatement. He was one of many people who worked tirelessly to see the shelter built.
“The issue is about homeless youth, regardless of the outcome,” he said. “In a Christian community, we have a biblical responsibility to ensure these kids are cared for.
“I ask all people of faith to continue to pray for the situation and respond by speaking out and defending the rights of kids in our community.”
He suggests contacting city councillors, MLAs and MPs to express their disappointment.
“They deserve to know that their constituents are behind them to ensure the dignity of these most vulnerable community members.”
Jasmine agrees that contacting politicians might help.
“People can donate, contact their MLA, the premier, the Department of Social Development and say this is important,” she said. “We want to see Safe Harbour stay open. There has been tremendous support from the community and from the faith community and this isn’t a reflection of that.”
The Diocese of Fredericton accepts donations to Safe Harbour – online [ http://anglican.nb.ca/giving/index.html], via telephone or in person.