For 30-plus years on a quiet street in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, there was a boarding house that was ran privately by a couple. They started off small with just a few guests staying in their own home, but it soon grew to meet the increasing demand of housing units in the community.
The day it closed - April 14, 2014 - it was reported there were over 35 people staying there. Many in our community referred to it as Newman's Place after its owner and operator, Mr. Len Newman.
Now I am not here to pick sides in a community debate that has been going on for years about whether Newman's Place should have been shut down earlier. But I can assure you - take it from someone who has been involved in the social housing scene for many years - that there were days when we were thankful as a community that we had a place where people were out of the cold and off the street.
However, I also would never condone some of the actions and unpleasant stories I heard coming from this place. The day that Newman's Place closed was indeed a sad day for some of the people staying there: it was a day of many unknowns, a day confusion and a day of crisis. But in my opinion and view, sometimes it takes a crisis to fix things. Sometimes it takes a crisis for a community to come together to resolve a situation.
I was very proud of how our community, in particular the Salvation Army, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nunatsiavut and various other stakeholders such as Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Association, the Labrador Friendship Center and the Melville Native Housing Association, all came together in a short time to develop and implement an immediate plan as well as a longer term solution to this complex issue.
For many years these groups have sat together formally as a Community Advisory Board (CAB) to attempt to address homelessness and affordable housing needs in Upper Lake Melville. They have also worked with many other not-for-profits and agencies to assist in this regard. They have done some good work and have had some success stories.
An obvious example of this is the recent building and opening of the new Libra House and Women's Center. Sincere congratulations to all those involved who made these projects a reality. So again, we saw the coming together of those groups to assist when we thought all was lost. They pooled their resources and collective minds - that resulted in putting together a plan - that will enable just about all of the displaced tenants to have a place to live and remain in our community. The willingness of the groups to work together and focus on the problem was paramount to a successful outcome. They indeed achieved this in short order and are to be commended.
As I have stated previously, most of these groups have been involved with this issue for a long time, and are under no illusion that there will be difficult days ahead. They will have to address challenges related to ongoing funding requirements, space limitations, screening criteria, complex personalities, community perceptions and sometimes confusing government regulations.
But alas, there are models of success out there that can be used as a template. They may need some tweaking to fit our community and our needs but for those involved, they don't have to re-invent the wheel.
In St. John's, the Stella Burry Center and the Gathering Place are wonderful examples of how the government and community organizations have come together to provide a place to live, a job and a purpose to those most vulnerable in our society. We are not here to judge but rather assist.
I once heard a quote that I was impressed with and often like to remind myself of it from someone who worked with the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and Homelessness Network. It is as follows: "It's not just a place to live. It's someone's home."
Stan Oliver writes from Happy Valley-Goose Bay and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org