A new organization has burst onto the scene in Fredericton with the sole mission of eradicating the city's homelessness. The “We Care Center,” established by Joanne Barlow, who is known by some as “Street Mom,” is taking a direct approach to assisting individuals who are “sleeping rough.”
The Center is a small, independent organization currently operating via Facebook, and they have already made a major impact on the Fredericton homeless community.
The first initiative of the Center was short-lived. Boom Nightclub was used for a few nights as a warming shelter by the Center before being swiftly shuttered. About 30-35 people took refuge from the cold at Boom, but COVID-19, capacity, and insurance concerns forced the shelter to close.
This closure did not stop Barlow from continuing her efforts to assist those forced back onto the street. On any given night, she identifies 18-25 individuals sleeping outdoors and in need of assistance.
“I count heads every night, provide sleeping bags, tents, and hot meals out of my van,” says Barlow. Her goal is to prevent people from getting sick when spending the night outdoors. “They need this food to make it through the night. They are my people.”
The individuals sleeping rough in Fredericton do so for a variety of reasons. Some are temporarily barred from shelters in the city, while others do not trust the shelter environment. Barlow sees her organization as providing a service to those who are alienated from Fredericton shelters.
One individual, nicknamed “Donnie,” has spent the past few months on the street, suffering from extreme exhaustion. The We Care Center recently put him up at a local shelter just in time for his 44th birthday. While this has been a large financial expenditure slowing the realization of the Center’s goals, the urgency of the situation demanded it.
“I am really happy to be out of the cold on my birthday,” exclaimed Donnie. “It’s much quieter than the shelter and Joanne (Barlow) actually cares… I’m glad I didn’t have to commit a crime to warm up in jail.”
At times, Donnie finds the shelter worse than the street.
“They wake you up at 6 a.m. and kick you out before 7 a.m.. No coffee or food or anything. There is not even a toilet to use downtown,” he explained.
He has enjoyed his time at the hotel and feels much better after a good night’s sleep. He is also a skilled sketch artist, and the warm environment is much more conducive to his art.
“It’s nice and dry and the paper doesn’t wrinkle up,” he shared, expressing his hope for a gig shovelling snow and properties around Fredericton. “I am getting low on cash, and I think I will get quite a few hours cleaning walkways.”
Other individuals assisted by Barlow have not been so fortunate. One homeless individual, John Davies, is currently in hospital with double pneumonia brought on by the cold weather. Barlow visits John in the hospital consistently. She found a foster parent for his dog, Duke, so he will be cared for while John recovers.
Many individuals under Barlow’s watch suffer from various physical and mental ailments. Her long-term goal is to have them all in suitable housing.
The Center has largely been funded from individual donors in Fredericton. Tanya Cloutier is a council member in nearby Canterbury and has worked with the We Care Center in the past. She feels that Fredericton has not taken the steps necessary to help its homeless population.
“I would like people to help if this issue existed in my city, so I help in this city,” Cloutier said.
For Cloutier, it is important that people see the humanity behind the individuals being helped by the Center.
“They have been nothing but kind to me. They are human beings, no matter the circumstances, and all just want a second chance at life,” she explained.
Cloutier decides how the funds will be distributed to individuals in need as well as coordinating the Center’s fundraising efforts. She also spends time lobbying other government officials to expand services to the homeless.
In the near future, Barlow and Cloutier are hoping to secure another location to get people off the street. While they view the recent decision of the city to turn the City Motel into affordable housing as a positive, they believe more urgency is needed.
Barlow and Cloutier have seen an increase in individuals sleeping rough and stressed the need for housing. The current pandemic situation continues to pose a challenge.
“COVID-19 has been a big problem. Many locations have not worked out due to public health concerns,” says Barlow.
Barlow expresses a great deal of gratitude to the individuals donating to the Center. The Center requests direct financial contributions, sleeping bags, food, tents, pillows, and participating in the square contest.