Minister confident boarding house situation is under control

Derek Montague
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Department of Advanced Education and Skills working on long-term fix for residents of closed facility

Kevin O’Brien, minister of Advanced Education and Skills, said his department is on top of the Newman’s Boarding House emergency and is working hard to make sure all 30 displaced residents will have shelter and food.

“We became engaged in the process, right away, where we would try to make sure that we would have short-term solutions in regards to accommodations and meals for the people who were going to be displaced,” O’Brien said Tuesday.

“Right now, as we move it through, I feel confident that each and every person who was displaced … will have accommodations this evening and also meals.”

Sudden closure

On April 14, the operators of Newman’s Boarding House, which housed 30 low-income people in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, abruptly announced it was shutting down. By the morning of April 15, the displaced residents packed their belongings and moved out.

O’Brien and his department’s staff members began working on the situation Monday evening, when word got out that Newman’s would close in less than a day.

According to the minister, the Department of Advanced Education and Skills has been working with several groups to find a solution to the emergency, including Labrador Grenfell Health, the Salvation Army, the Nunatsiavut Government, the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the Labrador Friendship Centre, the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. (NLHC) and the Department of National Defence.

“It’s unfortunate (the closure) happened, but it did,” said O’Brien. “And I’m proud of my staff that we could actually react so quickly.”

For the short term, said O’Brien, about 10 displaced residents were able to find accommodations with friends or family, while the NLHC helped six more. The others, he said, should be taken care of by other parties.

“We’re working with other stakeholders who have opportunity (to help) as well. And we’re just doing the finalized pieces of that,” O’Brien said.

Some of the vacant buildings at 5 Wing Goose Bay can also be used for temporary lodging.

“That’s an option that we’ll leave until last, because we have to deal with security issues there as well,” O’Brien said.

“But we have been in contact with the base, the base commander and his support people. They’ve been very accommodating to us and they’re there to support us if needed.”

O’Brien is also confident his department, along with the various stakeholders, will be able to find a long-term solution to replace the services that Newman’s provided.

A homeless shelter in Happy Valley-Goose Bay is a possibility.

“Those kinds of things take a fair bit of time. We just can’t materialize overnight,” O’Brien said.

“As a matter of fact, we’ve had contact with the Salvation Army, as well, that has an interest in providing a service on a permanent basis.”

Evaluating shelter

In the recent past, when the issue of homelessness has been brought up in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, some suggested the vacant Paddon Memorial Home (the former long-term care facility) might be a suitable shelter.

O’Brien said it’s too soon, however, to say whether or not that is a viable option.

“It could (be a good homeless shelter), but that would be premature of me saying, without proper engineering evaluations,” said O’Brien.

“When it comes down to engineering and all that kind of good stuff … I’m a layperson. So we have to go in there and do an evaluation on that.”

As soon as the residents of Newman’s Boarding House began moving out, a bus took them to the Salvation Army in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, where volunteers were waiting to serve them breakfast and give them a place to stay for as long as necessary.

As the day progressed, the church was also there to provide lunch and supper to those displaced residents needing food.

Throughout the day, about 20 volunteers helped the Salvation Army deal with the emergency.

Salvation Army spokesman Brent Haas said they would provide shelter to the displaced residents as long as they were needed.

“The guarantee I can make, from the Salvation Army’s point of view, is nobody will be placed on the street tonight,” said Haas.

“If that means that people have to stay in our building, we will make it work. I am confident, however, that by the end of the day everybody will be placed somewhere.”

The Labradorian

Organizations: Salvation Army, Department of Advanced Education and Skills, Boarding House Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Labrador Friendship Centre Department of National Defence

Geographic location: Goose Bay, Happy Valley

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