Two homeless shelters in Fredericton are trying a new approach at their centres- they have hired mental health support workers. But the funding for this program isn’t coming from the city, the province, or even Ottawa- it’s from Switzerland.

The ‘Global Fund,’ based in Geneva, granted the not-for-profit $30,000 in November, to try out the program for one year. Since then, counsellors have spent a day a week at the men’s and women’s shelters, sitting and speaking to each resident, should they feel up for it.

It comes after years of vying for funding from the New Brunswick government, according to the Shelters’ executive director, Warren Maddox.

The organization thought they had renewed hope in funding for mental health support in late 2016, when then Premier Brian Gallant announced that New Brunswick had reached a bilateral agreement on health with the Trudeau government, including $230 million earmarked for home care and mental health need.

“We went to the Department of Health, we initially sent it to the Premier’s office, so we ran it into the government,” recalls Maddox. “It got bounced back and forth, and then just sort of went into a black hole and we never heard anything more about it.”

Maddox says he was asking for $50,000 to get mental health professionals into the shelters so that they can speak to residents on a regular basis.

Frustrated, but not defeated, he took the idea to a local YMCA service club, who helped refine the pitch and then took it up the ladder- first to North Carolina, then Seoul, South Korea. Finally it was approved by the Global Fund.

“The first international money transfer landed in November, and we were off to the races,” says Maddox.

When asked why the application wasn’t accepted by the province, and where the money from the federal deal went, the New Brunswick Department of Health sent CTV News a statement.

“The Department of Health is always looking for ways to improve services that we offer to people, including those with mental health challenges,” said Alysha Elliott, a health department communications officer. “The province offers a wide range of mental health services that are accessible to all New Brunswickers throughout the province. For example, mental health services are available at the Victoria Health Centre, which is located very close to one of the city’s homeless shelters.”

Maddox says the point is to deliver help directly to the residents- and he says it’s working.

“Overall tension and anxiety in the shelters has gone down, and you can see that on a daily basis. You can see when the support workers, on whatever day it is, that the guys are around the table and are active, learning to listen, and eager to talk,” says Maddox.

The funding is in place for one year. The shelters are collecting data, and hope to find funding to continue the program after the year is up. But Maddox says he likely won’t be looking for it from the province.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown.