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'This place has honestly saved me': Fredericton tiny-home community opens café serving fresh brews, fresh starts


For Ashley Chapman, Neighbourly Coffee is about more than a fresh brew – it’s her fresh start.

The Fredericton woman moved to 12 Neighbours – a tiny home community on the city’s northside built to support those without housing – two months ago

Under founder Marcel Lebrun, the community has now built and opened a café close to the tiny homes, and is employing several people who live there, including Chapman.

“I was at a homeless shelter for women after an abusive relationship and this place has honestly saved me,” she said. “I was able to study and have my own space and get my own self back again.”

She’s says a lot of hard work goes into brewing each cup of coffee and baking each loaf of bread, which is why she’s encouraging everyone in Fredericton to visit the new café.

“Everybody's trying to live a new life, and people do need to give people a chance,” she said.

Ashley Chapman is pictured. (Laura Brown/CTV Atlantic)

Melissa Heagney was the first resident at 12 Neighbours. She moved in during a snowstorm from a tent she and her partner had been living in.

Now, she’s working at the café fulltime, able to bring her love for cooking to her neighbours.

“We proved them all wrong. This is a big community and it's just going to keep growing,” she said. “I feel more confident in myself, I can actually do stuff now. I went to school, never thought I could do that. I just graduated in April, now I have a job. In 15 years I’ve never had a job.”

Melissa Heagney is pictured. (Laura Brown/CTV Atlantic)

That’s what it’s all about, says Lebrun.

“To see her go from survival crisis mode every day to, you know, making some healthy choices and then being able to show up to training every day and get a food services training program, is incredible,” he said.

The community now has 97 tiny homes, and offers developmental supports like counselling and education opportunities for its residents.

It also encourages “low barrier, patient and progressive employment opportunities” to help people enter, or re-enter, the workforce, which is why Neighbourly Coffee was created.

“Everyone can now touch the project. There's been so many people who've kind of followed what we're doing and are excited. And then this weekend, with the cafe open, they're able to come here, meet community members greeting them at the door, come in and be a little bit closer to what this is all about,” Lebrun said.

The community is also turning its focus to another social enterprise: building garden homes for purchase.

The homes are becoming more popular in cities to address the housing shortage. Bylaws now allow many homeowners to place a garden home on their property and rent them out.

“Neighbourly Homes” has started building those homes, fully equipped with appliances that can connect to existing water, sewer and electrical infrastructure.

Lebrun says it’s all about giving purpose.

“Community is really the healing agent, not the clinician or, you know, the programs or these kinds of things. So really, fundamentally, we're community builders,” he said. “Yes, we have houses. And you got to start with a place to live, having a warm, safe place. But more than that, we're building a place where people can be included, valued, cherished and where barriers are challenged, where opportunities become accessible.”

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