Recent weeks have seen the Phoenix Learning Center met with concerns from the surrounding community regarding the implications of an increase in the homeless population in the residential area.
Scott Earle, Coordinator and Operations Manager at the Centre, is originally from Newfoundland and has a familial history of working with the homeless population.
“My dad’s been volunteering with the homeless in St. John’s for the last 15 years,” he said. “I dabbled a little bit, volunteering, and when this came up I was 150 per cent on board.”
Earle explained that, while there have been some concerns, the Centre is working to provide a safe and welcoming environment for their guests and minimize the cause for public concern.
“We want to then have a place where they could just relax and rest,” Earle said, explaining that one cause for community concern was public urination. “Some of the neighbors have seen public urination. But, since we put porta potties in, that is all done and gone with.”
The Phoenix Learning Centre first opened its doors in downtown Fredericton in September 2020 and were met with friction from the surrounding business community. They relocated, and opened the doors to their current location in October 2020.
Since their original opening in September, the Centre has served 4 887 unique guests, with some returning multiple times to make use of the opportunities available.
“[We average] 34 people per day,” explained Earle, saying that they have provided 6 835 meals and 1 343 showers since their inception. “I can seat 31, and that way we’ve got them inside and everybody’s eating their warm meals in a warm room.”
The Centre operates from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. seven days a week, and works to provide their guests with services that they may be unable to access elsewhere.
“What we’re doing is bringing different agencies to meet our guests where they are,” Earle said. “Housing First [Services] comes here on a daily basis to deal with clients, and the Downtown Health Center has Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons set up here.”
As Coordinator and Operations Manager, Earle has spoken with parole officers to help ensure that guests are better equipped to make their appointment times.
“We’re actually getting people to their appointments and getting them to take care of the things that they need,” he explained.
The Centre has nine paid staff members, five of whom have lived experience in the homeless community, which can help to build trust with their guests. As well, volunteers and students from the community can often be found at the Centre.
“We have a recent graduate of Psychology on staff for us, we have a Social Work student on staff with us,” Earle said. “We have other volunteers that are from the community, who just want to be here and want to help, and then we have our fantastic ladies that do homemade baking.”
Earle is adamant that homelessness is a condition that could affect anybody, it simply comes down to circumstance.
“It could be me in that role, and one of them sitting in this chair,” Earle said, explaining that the Centre may be new, but they are working hard to make a change. “We’re starting, but we’re not going away. It’s something that, in the future, is going to be bigger and brighter.”