New Community Hub ‘missing piece’ for struggling Moncton neighbourhood | #elderly | #seniors | #execrise
Many people drive down Moncton’s busy Elmwood Drive on their way to one of the strip malls, big box stores or bars, but if you turn off the main drag and head into the neighbourhoods you will find single-family bungalows, townhouses for rent, and subdivisions filled with N.B. Housing units.
This is where the John Howard Society of Southeastern New Brunswick and Visions United Church are finishing construction on a huge, 24,000-square-foot building that will offer two precious commodities: affordable housing and community space.
The building, called the Community Hub, has 20 one-bedroom apartments on one end, which will be rented to single men. On the other end, there are rooms large and small that can be used for exercise classes, ball-hockey leagues, quilting clubs or support meetings. There is also a large teaching kitchen, and offices for rent to non-profits.
Krista Richard, who grew up in the neighbourhood and teaches phys-ed at the local school, hopes the new public spaces will be “that piece that’s missing for this community.”
She retires this year and has already committed to volunteering at the Community Hub to offer children’s sports programs.
“It’s a low-income area,” Richard said when asked about the challenges residents face. “And for a lot of seniors, parents, kids — they want to get involved in a lot of stuff, but either financially they can’t, or transportation.”
‘Kids are missing out’
In recent years, cuts by the provincial government have meant cuts to community spaces in these neighbourhoods.
Natalie Chiasson-Frigault and her three young children live in an N.B. Housing complex. There used to be a playground on one side of her building and a bustling community centre owned by N.B. Housing on the other, which offered programs for adults and kids.
The play equipment was removed in recent years, and now the park is an empty patch of grass. The community centre is open just twice a week for an after-school program run by the YWCA.
“Well, ever since they took the park down, I mean there hasn’t been much for the kids around here,” said Chiasson-Frigault.
“I think the kids will love it,” she said of the new Community Hub. “Because there’s more space for the kids to actually play in there.”
Richard said having a community centre within walking distance for everyone is a big deal for families who have been left out of activities because they don’t have a car or can’t afford registration fees.
“If your child wants to play minor soccer, they’d have to take a bus, bring the other kids with them, change buses, go to the game, wait for a bus, wait to come home,” she said.
“And a lot of those kids are missing out on part of a childhood — playing sports, being together, making new friends.”
Richard runs an after-school sports program at Forest Glen School, where she has taught for 19 years.
“The parents were always saying, ‘This is the only time I’ve ever been able to cheer on my child.'”
She hopes that by offering activities at the Community Hub, parents and kids will get to know one another, and that this will lead to a stronger neighbourhood.
“When you have pride in your community, there’s less vandalism, less bad things happening because you start looking out for each other,” she said. “I’m hoping for a lot of outshoots from the community centre so that people stay together and have a sense of community.”
Rumours interrupt momentum
Community volunteer Bobby-Jo Siliker can see the new Community Hub from her apartment.
She is a member of the Community Hub’s engagement team, which meets every few weeks, and said the biggest challenge has been getting people engaged, and dispelling rumours about who will move into the affordable apartments.
“When I first heard about the Community Hub, I was misinformed as well. I thought it was also what everybody else is thinking — that it’s a halfway house.”
Siliker now sets the record straight when she talks with her neighbours, explaining that the Community Hub will include a multi-purpose gathering space for up to 150 people, a teaching kitchen with appliances you can borrow and a public garden.
The tenants in the affordable housing section will be single men on the New Brunswick Housing wait list, clients of the John Howard Society and people who have experienced chronic homelessness. There will be live-in superintendents providing on-site support to the men who live there.
In a conversation outside Siliker’s apartment, Mikey Dauphinee, who lives in the area, tells her some people are worried the apartments will be filled with “sex offenders.”
Siliker quickly jumped in to explain: “Those type of people will definitely not be housed here.”
The mood of the conversation changed when Dauphinee heard that people like him on the wait list for an N.B. Housing unit will be eligible to move in.
Siliker hopes that once the Community Hub opens on July 31, and her neighbours see once and for all what it is, that more of them will volunteer.
“Speaking for myself, I can tell you there hasn’t been very many volunteers besides me. So it’s very hard to get people involved and committed. But hopefully … people will get engaged and want to come out and support.”
‘People have lost their ability to dream’
Joanne Murray, executive director of the John Howard Society of Southeastern New Brunswick, said the philosophy of the new centre is to help the people who will use it to take the lead.
“I think people have lost their ability to dream about what they want for their community because we stopped asking them,” she said. “You absolutely lose that muscle … and I think that this space can create a space for that to come back again.”
After years of cuts to community spaces, Richard hopes that by adding instead of subtracting, it will “bring people together.”
“I think it’s going to be, like they say, a hub. It’s going to be for everyone and I think it’ll help this whole community get closer.”