‘False promises’ made by government, says resident of new shelter at former airport hotel

Former tent city resident Kathy Lynn White says she feels trapped in the government’s new transitional housing facility on Airport rd.

Former tent encampment resident Kathy Lynn White says she feels trapped in the government’s new transitional housing facility on Airport Road. (CBC)

A resident of Newfoundland and Labrador’s new transitional housing facility in a former airport hotel says she hasn’t received the help she was promised and wants to leave.

Kathy Lynn White says she hasn’t received support at the former Comfort Inn since moving in on May 3. There’s no income support, no support workers and no transportation, she said — only strict rules and isolation.

“I have to eat on time. I feel like I’m on parole,” she said.

White lived in a tent encampment at the Colonial Building in St. John’s for four months. The camp’s residents were recently removed and offered alternative housing by the province.

White, who has mental and physical disabilities, says she was told that if she moved to the Airport Road facility she would be offered the support she needed.

Simone Lilly, End Homelessness’s director of community investment, told CBC News they’re still hiring staff and the facility isn’t fully operational yet as a transitional housing site.

But there are some support staff on site at all times, she added, and an outreach team and a harm reduction team from Newfoundland Labrador Health Services checks in daily.

Next week, she said, the facility will have eight core staff on site.

There are designated meal times for breakfast, lunch and dinner, she said, but End Homelessness is working on setting up more meal operations to ensure there is always food available.

‘I’m alone’

White says she feels isolated from her friends and family, despite being told she would be permitted to have visitors. She says her fiancé was placed in a different shelter and she has not been permitted to see him.

“I’m alone. I feel dark. I have no one to talk to. I have people following me around. I don’t know who they are.”

Lilly says residents can come and go as they please but visitors are required to sign in and sign out for security reasons. Other than that, she said, there are no restrictions to the residents’ activities.

The provincial government made a three-year lease agreement to rent the facility for $6.9 million per year, and residents will have to sign leases with the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, which will determine the rental cost.

“From what we know it’ll be deeply affordable,” said Lilly.

White said she’s unhappy about the leases.

“They’re trying to entrap us,” said White.

Hutton says the leases are part of the government’s transitional supportive housing initiative, which will eventually turn the facility into a 24/7 operation with a site and floor manager, security, social workers, occupational therapists, nurse practitioners, a harm reduction team, counseling and a family physician.

Housing Minister Fred Hutton says that more services will be phased in as more people sign leases at 109 Airport Rd.

Housing Minister Fred Hutton says more services will be phased in as more people sign leases and move in. (CBC)

Hutton acknowledged that not all the services are in place there yet but said they will be phased in as more people sign leases.

He also said people who are leasing rooms are permitted to have guests and the facility offers common areas.

Lilly said the purpose of the lease is to provide security of tenure.

“That’s a core philosophy of housing first, is that the individual has security in knowing that that’s their place, that’s their home,” Lilly said.

Lilly says the purpose of security is to protect residents. There are three security guards who stay at the front unless there is an issue elsewhere. Security also keeps track of who’s on site for safety reasons.

False promises

NL NDP Leader Jim Dinn says White’s case is emblematic of the challenges others are facing. “Neither the government nor End Homelessness has delivered on their promises,” he said.

“(There is) a vast gulf between what minister states … and what is the reality for the people on the ground,” said Dinn, who also accused Hutton of not answering basic questions besides the government putting a lot of money toward the facility.

“I found that very disturbing,” said Dinn.

Lilly reiterated that the facility is not yet at full capacity.

“We’re in a transitional phase right now, trying to support individuals who are on site as best as we possibly can,” Lilly said.

White says she has her bags packed and will leave if she isn’t provided the support she was promised.

“I’ll sleep on a park bench somewhere rather than stay here,” she said. “I’m a human, I am a citizen and I already have rights to freedom, and they should offer that.”

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