Juanita Black is a long-time advocate for building a more caring community, and her powerful message is captured in an inspiring new documentary film that’s launching today.
Perseverance: The Juanita Black Story charts more than 30 years she’s spent as a volunteer, poverty advocate, mentor, philanthropist and neighbourhood leader. As someone who has lived in poverty, Juanita has a fierce determination for fairness and justice that she has demonstrated at the local, provincial and national levels.
As Juanita shows us, it takes everyone working together to make meaningful change, and there are many ways to contribute: volunteer, make a donation, write a letter, join a committee, etc. Juanita illustrates the power of one working with the power of many to bring about change!
*Thank you to Ann for sharing her story with us and for collaborating in the writing process. Thank you to the staff of EFry for working with us to share Ann’s story.
One person, one unit and one case plan at a time
Working in the homeless-serving sector is a challenging gig. Daily, workers bear witness to the barriers their clients face.
Amidst the chaos of the frontlines, there are bright moments of hope that help to fuel the good work. They keep us going and lead us toward our goal of ending chronic homelessness in Saint John.
Since the pandemic arrived in New Brunswick in March 2020, a dedicated and tenacious group of housing and shelter providers and community agencies have gathered around a virtual Zoom table. Discussion focuses on an end to homelessness in Saint John, one person, one unit and one case plan at a time.
The conversations at the Homelessness Information Partnership Saint John’s (HIPSJ) Case Conferencing table are difficult and focus on the daily struggles that our neighbours face as they navigate the increasingly treacherous housing market. Daunting stories of rapidly rising rents and the threat of spending another night on the streets are too frequent.
Despite the complex situations they face every day, those who work in the homeless serving sector continue to bring hope, compassion, and persistence to their work. Amidst the day-to-day and systemic challenges, there are stories of hope that, coupled with the shared aim to end homelessness in our community, helps to feed the momentum.
Here’s Ann’s story.
The Case Conferencing table came together as usual via Zoom for the typical Tuesday meeting. The team from the Elizabeth Fry Society (EFry) had submitted a name for discussion.
Ann (whose name is changed for confidentiality), is a Canadian citizen.
Ann’s life changed when she was incarcerated for 13 years in a prison in the United States for a crime committed while protecting her children from physical harm. Friends and family support dropped away throughout her prison life. Fortunately, during her time incarcerated, Ann kept a close friend, Jennifer (whose name is changed for confidentiality), in Saint John with whom she shared regular correspondence.
When Ann completed her sentence in March 2021, Jennifer reached out to EFry NB to help Ann transition to New Brunswick. Amidst the pandemic, and in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Ann was flown to Quebec to self-isolate in a hotel for two weeks without money, medical insurance, ID, or personal belongings.
In addition to those barriers, Ann was unilingual, unable to communicate in French. Elizabeth, EFry’s Court Liaison Program Coordinator, who worked closely with Ann to navigate the various systems and challenges she faced, says, “I can’t imagine how frightening that must have been to have felt so alone in a strange city.”
A heart-warming time
The Red Cross helped Ann call EFryNB to let the team know where she was. Elizabeth assisted Ann in connecting with EFry Quebec, who responded immediately to provide a room in one of its residences. In the meantime, Elizabeth and EFryNB coordinated her travels plans to Saint John.
The team at EFry NB recalls the process:
For us at EFryNB, it was a heart-warming time as many of our excellent Saint John community partners, through HIPSJ’s Coordinated Access process, stepped forward unsolicited to provide essential costs for Ann to reach NB and settle.
EFryNB and EFry Quebec shared Ann’s airfare to Moncton. HIPSJ paid for a designated taxi ride from Moncton to isolate in Saint John Hilton. Thanks to Elizabeth’s advocacy, the Hilton waived hotel costs. Her damage deposit, first month’s rent, and Saint John Energy deposit were all covered by HIPSJ. It truly takes a village.
Ann moved into EFryNB’s My Place apartments, our supportive housing project. The EFry team helped Ann get her NB medical card and see a family doctor, which allowed her to renew her prescriptions. After getting a picture ID, she arranged Income Assistance and set up a bank account.
After helping Ann meet her immediate needs, EFryNB continued wrap-around services. Having been incarcerated since 2013, Ann needed some assistance to navigate the world in 2021. The team helped her learn how to use a cellphone and a computer. Moving forward, the team will help her cook, budget, and get to appointments. They will provide ongoing counselling, which will be available when needed. Once settled, we will help Ann find employment if wished.
Imagine a different scenario in which Ann would now be homeless in Montreal.
Together, we create solutions that would not be possible alone.
Through the By-Names List process, Ann was prioritized for housing at EFry NB’s MyPlace housing program for women and gender-diverse individuals who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
Ann has settled into her apartment and is working on plans for her next chapter. The HIPSJ committee recently received a thank you letter from Ann. She writes:
I have been much blessed by Elizabeth Fry and people like you who have shown me kindness and generosity since I came to Saint John. Your assistance is so much appreciated.
Ann’s is just one story. Across the Province and the country, there are tables like the HIPSJ Case Conferencing table and agencies like EFry working to create a more just and equitable world for those experiencing homelessness. We open our case conferencing meetings with a guiding statement which includes the following words:
We are here because we care about improving the lives of our most vulnerable community members. We believe everyone has a right to live in a safe, affordable home. Each of us brings to this table a different set of experiences and opinions. Every voice is valued, and all perspectives are needed. Together, we create solutions that would not be possible alone.
In the language of social work or social justice movements, we often describe the people we support as vulnerable. Ann’s story demonstrates her equal participation in her self-advocacy and appreciation for her community. It’s time we re-frame the problem of homelessness from the experience of those who are vulnerable to a situation wherein multiple barriers create inequitable access to housing and community support. Through our work as a community, together, working in a coordinated way, we continue to join equity-seeking individuals in their journey towards a free and just life – and in that way, we transform our world.
Let’s keep going.
If you have questions about Saint John’s By-Names List or homelessness resources, please email BNLupdates@gmail.com.
A few weeks ago, we posted a blog about the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on certain groups of workers. Through a deep dive into the Labour Force Survey, we found that low wage workers, mothers with children under 12 and lone parents were adversely impacted by the pandemic. We cautioned that if these workers are not part of New Brunswick’s pandemic recovery plan, they are at risk of being left behind.
We also recognize that workers are not the only people affected by the pandemic and that those who were struggling before COVID-19 continue to struggle. In 2018, the most recent year that tax filer data is available, 17.2% of New Brunswickers including 21.8% of children and 15.5% of seniors lived in poverty.
Using a variety of sources, from research reports to data from local agencies, it became clear that people living in poverty pre-pandemic faced many challenges over the last year. Job opportunities were scarce, prices of many essential goods rose, and social supports were strained and weakened due to pandemic restrictions. To show how those living in poverty during the pandemic are struggling we looked at data for three basic needs: food, shelter, and transportation.
Food is one of life’s most basic needs. And for many living in poverty, increases in food prices can be detrimental. When food becomes more expensive for people with low, fixed incomes, it is often the quality and quantity of food that is sacrificed. According to Statistics Canada’s Consumer Price Index, food prices in New Brunswick rose by 2.6% in 2020. Canada’s Food Price Report 2021 anticipates that food prices will continue to rise over 2021, by as much as 3%-5%. Although these increases sound modest the effects of food price increases coupled with the additional challenges of living during a pandemic are substantial for individuals and families with low income. Romero House, a soup kitchen in Saint John, saw an increase in meals served throughout 2020 (see Figure 1). Prior to the pandemic, Romero House served approximately 6,000 meals per month in January and February of 2020. Over the remainder of 2020, the number of meals served continued to climb, reaching a high of over 10,000 per month from September to December 2020. These numbers are a stark example of how food became a concern for many over the course of the pandemic.
Shelter is another basic need that has become more expensive during the pandemic. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Rental Market Survey shows that median rent in New Brunswick’s three principal cities increased between 2019 and 2020, from a low of $750 in Saint John to a high of $930 in Fredericton (see Figure 2). Vacancy rates in the three cities are also low: 2.4% in Fredericton, 2.6% in Moncton and 2.9% in Saint John. Rising rents coupled with low vacancy rates present several challenges. Some may be unable to make their rent, leading to evictions, while others will cut back on other needs such as food or clothing to make ends meet.
Many people with low incomes rely on public transit. Convenient access is crucial for those without a vehicle to get to work and run essential errands. According to Statistics Canada, “the international standard used to measure convenient access to public transportation is defined as the percentage of a population living within 500 meters of a public transport access point.” Their data shows that the Saint John Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) had the least convenient access to public transit out of 35 CMAs in Canada, with 49.1% of the population living within 500 meters of a bus stop. The Moncton CMA ranked 31 out of 35, with 65.4% having convenient access.
Throughout the pandemic, there have been several changes to public transit. In Saint John, capacity is limited to accommodate social distancing measures, and routes have been reduced. From April to November 2020, there was no public transit available on Sundays. These changes make it exceedingly difficult for those who rely on public transportation to go about their daily lives.
A recovery plan for those living in poverty
Food, shelter, and transportation are just a few examples of how the pandemic has impacted those living in poverty. We know that poverty costs the provincial government $1.3 billion per year in added service use and missed opportunity, highlighting the urgency to eradicate poverty in our province. Without a recovery plan in place for those on a low income, they are likely to become further entrenched in the cycle of poverty, with lasting impacts beyond the pandemic.
A Coordinated Access System is only as strong as the people doing the work on the frontlines to support our community. We’re fortunate in Saint John to have a strong group of dedicated professionals who care deeply about the well-being of our community and the people in it. In this series, we will dive into the stories of the experts on the frontlines to explore what it means to do genuine community work.
Helping People Build Their Voice
Opening your inbox on a dreary winter day to see the subject line, “Feel-Good Story,” does not often happen in this field, but when it does, it sticks with you.
Receiving an email like this from Misty is par for the course – she is as genuine as they come. The Skillslink Coordinator at the John Howard Society spends her days assisting people with barriers to employment to find meaningful work. She is also a fierce advocate.
It all adds up that Misty’s first foray into non-profit, community work would be International Women’s Day 2 years ago. “My favourite thing about this work is helping people build their voice so they can stand up for themselves.”
Misty sees the gaps in the system starkly and does not hesitate to call them out.
The Feel-Good Story? An incredible example of housing first in practice.
Housing First: A Feel-Good Story
Like everyone working in the homeless-serving sector in Saint John, Misty loves a success story. She was happy to share how the housing first model indeed came into play for a young woman she supported.
“Jennifer (name changed for confidentiality) came with a backpack on her back and little else. She had lost her job, her children and her home due to addiction.”
Jennifer was newly sober after attending rehab. Her story of trauma interwoven with addiction was not unlike the stories we hear each day in the homeless-serving sector. Fortunately, she found Misty. Jennifer was added to the By-Names List and was prioritized for an apartment uptown. Once housed, the pieces quickly fell back into place for Jennifer. She began a program through the John Howard Society and obtained employment in the helping field with Misty’s oversight. Jennifer saved up for a car and worked tirelessly to reunite with her children.
At the one-year mark for Jennifer’s sobriety, Misty brought over a giant cookie cake to celebrate. “For me, the coolest thing is how healthy she looks.” Misty described the joy on Jennifer’s face and the palpable sense of pride she exuded. Jennifer had her apartment looking pristine and thoughtfully decorated, including flowers on the table and pictures on the fridge, small signifiers of a home.
“Every single person deserves to have someone to stand up for them.”
Misty is familiar with the experience of homelessness. Growing up in Provincial care in Ontario as a child, Misty became homeless at the age of 15 and aged out of care the following year. Like many young people, she did not qualify for income assistance because she was not in school. Using her creativity and voice, Misty quickly became a strong self-advocate. When she had children, they became her driving factor. She wanted to build her life up to be better for her kids.
Considering her life experiences, both personal and professional, Misty brings a multi-faceted perspective to her work. Her inspiration now? “A community where I can walk by and wave at my neighbours, where we pick each other up instead of living separately.” And she is taking action to get there.
Many of the folks that Misty works with share that they “Want to give back and help others.” Not every story has a happy ending, but Misty is motivated by the idea of serving people when and where she can. By meeting people where they are and helping them along the path to self-empowerment, Misty believes in a community where mutual aid is the reality.
If you have questions about Saint John’s By-Names List or homelessness resources, please email BNLupdates@gmail.com.
As we reduce chronic homelessness in Saint John, we have used data to determine the next steps. One key aspect of Saint John’s Coordinated Access System is the Prevention Program operated out of Fresh Start Services.
The Backstory: Developing the Prevention Program
Fresh Start is an institution in the Saint John homeless serving sector —since 2009, the powerhouse agency has been working to reduce barriers for women experiencing homelessness. Advocating for people at risk of eviction, standing up for people navigating the social security network and assisting folks in accessing emergency food options are a few of the activities Fresh Start does best. You are in good hands when the women at Fresh Start have your back.
While they continue to provide ongoing support to people in need, the new Prevention Program acts as an integral component to Saint John’s homeless serving system by reducing homeless inflow onto the By-Names List (BNL) and addressing the situational, episodic, or chronic challenges that result in homelessness. The program’s purpose is to maintain or improve people’s current living situations to keep them where they are instead of attempting to re-house them in an over-priced rental market.
There are three primary approaches to addressing homelessness:
Prevention – Stopping people from becoming homeless in the first place.
Emergency Response – Providing emergency supports like shelter, food, and day programs while someone is homeless.
Housing, Accommodation, and Supports – The provision of housing and ongoing supports as a means of moving people out of homelessness.
While Saint John’s Coordinated Access System addresses homelessness by assisting people in moving off the BNL through housing, accommodation and support, Prevention targets homelessness by stopping people from being added to the BNL in the first place.
If we can strategically target homelessness from both ends of the spectrum, we are well on our way to ending chronic homelessness in our community. Fresh Start provides Prevention support while other agencies in the Coordinated System such as shelters (Emergency Response) and housing programs (Housing, Accommodation and Supports) make up the other pieces of the system. All components work to manage the inflow and outflow of homelessness.
Fresh Start Prevention: A Three-Tiered Approach
The Fresh Start Prevention Program takes a strategic three-tiered approach to homelessness prevention. The first tier of support involves providing emergency funds (Emergency Homeless Prevention Fund – EHPF) to mitigate the risk of homelessness. The second tier involves light-touch advocacy and mediation services for those at risk of homelessness – this tier focuses on resolving single challenges to prevent housing loss. The third tier is for individuals who require more intensive case management involving complex behaviours or ongoing difficulties related to housing loss. All three levels of assistance involve consideration for the EHPF financial support. Individuals 19+ who are at risk of homelessness or in their first month of homelessness may be eligible for support through Fresh Start’s Prevention Program.
Kristen: Saint John’s Prevention Program Manager
“I can’t always fix someone’s situation, but I can improve their day.” Kristen, Saint John’s Prevention Lead, approaches homelessness prevention collaboratively alongside her clients, “We take those little steps forward together and help them move beyond their current situation.” Kristen has been working in the field of homelessness for three years. Before that, she worked in the non-profit housing field in group homes, emergency crisis intervention and youth observation – she brings years of expertise to the table.
The Prevention Program’s role is to address the situational, episodic or chronic challenges that result in homelessness. “If we can intervene at that point, we can make sure that people do not become chronically homeless,” Kristen says.
Kristen recognizes that not every prevention effort will be successful, but connecting people to the Coordinated Access system can help support prevention efforts. Currently, Fresh Start sees 110 prevention clients monthly, and they have seen an 83% success rate – numbers that demonstrate both the need for and efficacy of the program.
The Public’s Role in Prevention
The public plays a significant role in the prevention program’s success, especially with the increasingly competitive rental market. “Everyone out there is either a tenant or a landlord,” Kristen says that she appreciates the people in the community who are willing to work with Fresh Start to address chronic homelessness and prevent inflow into the system. She is impressed by the response from landlords, the community, and tenants. “They’re the ones who make it work.”
Landlords often need a sounding board to discuss the unique challenges of owning property and housing people. Kristen works closely with property owners to address problems that arise and mitigate issues before they bubble to the surface. She says a key to collaboration is to avoid sugar-coating anything, “Landlords appreciate honesty.” Much of Kristen’s role is to act as a mediator between landlords and their tenants, using her communication skills to break down barriers.
Kristen sees the Prevention Program as a long-term effort towards addressing generational homelessness and poverty. The program works with individuals and families to educate them and provide them with the skills to avoid becoming homeless in the future. “If we can improve their socio-economic status and skills now, we will see fewer individuals entering homelessness in the future.”
Housing was the first step in this young woman’s journey towards healing.
“Hello?” a gentle voice answered the phone. Sarah’s sensitive demeanour and grace were immediately present at the other end of the line. My call woke her up, but she kept me on the phone while politely putting on a pot of coffee and starting to share her story. “I’ll never forget where I came from.”
When Sarah received a housing placement through Fresh Start/YWCA’s Justice Program in 2019, it gave her a place to relax and call her own. Childhood experiences of trauma and housing precarity were just two factors that presented challenges in Sarah’s life. Things became a bit easier when Gordon Ferris, a local landlord with a heart for helping people, offered one of his available units in uptown Saint John to be subsidized through the YWCA Justice Program.
When Lovey and Nancy, outreach support workers from the YWCA, went to view the apartment with Sarah, they had to agree that it was a perfect fit. Sarah remembers them saying, “This is SO you!” She describes her awe of the newly renovated space that she now had to call her own. “This was a new start.”
“Things moved pretty fast,” says Sarah, “I didn’t have anything because I was living in a bedroom before that.” Sarah was excited when Fresh Start and Sophia Recovery Centre partnered to set her up with an apartment’s worth of furniture. “Fresh Start gave me a love seat; I had never had a loveseat before.”
Not only did Sarah now have a home of her own, but she also had wraparound support from the community. Like a warm hug, Lovey, Nancy, Mel, and Kristen from Fresh Start encircled Sarah, helping her to acknowledge her inner strength and allowing her to take small steps forward. “I’m grateful for Fresh Start; I recommend it to everyone.”
Time to heal.
Now housed, Sarah could focus on healing and managing her mental health. Sarah was over-medicated due to the lack of appropriate services to meet her mental health needs. At first, she found it challenging to manage life living independently, but she still worked a volunteer position at a local pizza shop. Sarah reflects on her experience, “I did not set my priorities for work-life yet.” Over time Sarah began to develop a cleaning routine and learned how to take care of her apartment. Eventually, the volunteer position at the pizzeria turned into paid work.
Life was starting to improve for Sarah, but just three months after moving into her apartment, she began struggling with her mental health more than ever. She tried to quit her medication, which resulted in a hospital stay. Knowing she needed help, she reached out to a family member in the healthcare field who advocated for her. Sarah’s psychiatrist invited her into his private practice instead of admitting her to the hospital. With the right medication and ongoing support from her community connections, Sarah’s health began to improve. She stayed connected with her clinician from Mental Health and continued to work with her psychiatrist.
With newfound strength, Sarah expanded her social network. “I made new sober friends; that was nice.” On top of being offered full-time hours at work, Sarah shared the news with Lovey and Nancy on one of their regular check-ins that her long-term boyfriend proposed!
“The system has not always worked in my favour; to have it work was great.”
Like most in 2020, the reality of the pandemic struck Sarah hard, but she was determined to stick to the goals she had set for herself. When the opportunity for a new unsubsidized apartment arose, Sarah spoke to her boyfriend about the possibility of living together.
But there were still more hurdles. Sarah was upfront with her case manager at social development and reported that she would now be living with her partner. As a result, due to provincial policy, Sarah’s health coverage was cut off. Sarah could not be without medical coverage, so, resilient as ever; she started to look for a job. She took a job before Christmas at a local call center that offers health benefits, and she now maintains both of her roles while living in her new apartment with her fiancé and their four cats.
When reflecting on the last few years, Sarah shares, “The system has not always worked in my favour; to have it work was great. I don’t know what I would have done without Fresh Start or NB Housing.”
Sophia Recovery Centre has also been a stronghold for Sarah. Giving back to the community, pre-pandemic, Sarah led meditation sessions for the women at the centre. Meeting other women and sharing inspiration with them is one of Sarah’s favourite parts of her role, “It’s been a blessing to work with everyone.”
If you have questions about Saint John’s By-Names List or homelessness resources, please email BNLupdates@gmail.com