N.B. man makes a homeless shelter in garage, gets shut down by bylaw
Serge Parent is seen in this undated handout photo. The New Brunswick man turned his garage into a makeshift shelter but says his attempt to help homeless people was shut down by a bylaw he didn't know about. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Zoe Levesque)
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Monday, January 14, 2019 7:47AM AST
Last Updated Monday, January 14, 2019 7:49AM AST
SAINT-ANTOINE, N.B. -- A New Brunswick man who turned his garage into a makeshift shelter says his attempt to help homeless people was shut down by a bylaw he didn't know about.
In November, Serge Parent of the village of Saint-Antoine invited three people living on the street in nearby Moncton to live in his garage.
"It started out from the heart. I felt we needed to help these people," he said in an interview. "My idea was, instead of putting my car in my garage, it would be better to have people in there."
Parent owns seven acres of property in the village, and was connected to the trio after a man in Moncton who worked with the city's homeless reached out to him on social media.
He said the garage was outfitted with beds, a wood stove and a fridge, and the people had access to water, beautiful scenery and garden plots so they could learn to grow their own food.
Parent, an occupational therapist, said his garage was more than just a shelter for the people staying there.
"What helped them a lot was the fact that I went there every morning just to make sure they're okay," he said.
"They said having a shelter and food does help, but having someone who cares and takes time to listen to you, and spends time with you, for them, that's what made the difference. It's a very essential need humans have."
Parent said he worked with the people he took in to help them connect with nature and learn new life skills to help them overcome addiction.
But in December, he said he received a letter from the Kent Regional Service Commission, which helps oversee bylaws in Kent County, saying he needed a permit to turn the garage into a dwelling.
"I didn't know, I was just trying to help people," said Parent, adding that he thought his garage was a much better option than the tents they had previously been living in. "It was insulated, it had everything for their basic needs."
At that point, one of the people had left, but he said it was very difficult to break the news to the other two.
Neither the commission nor Saint-Antoine Mayor Ricky Gautreau responded to a request for comment Sunday, but Gautreau told media last week that there had been some complaints from the community.
"We had a lot of complaints here at the village that we were having people living in a garage and that it wasn't safe for them," he said. "The people in the area were not happy that with what was being done."
He also said the rule applies everywhere in the province.
New Brunswick's Community Planning Act says no more than one dwelling can be placed on the same piece of land unless they meet other provisions in the provincial building regulation.
Parent said he's heard only positive things from his neighbours, some of whom have helped him make food for the people living with him.
He added that he's hopeful for the three of them: when they first started staying with him in November, he said he helped them get three forms of identification, which would help qualify them for assistance programs.
While Parent is disappointed that they can't stay with him any longer, he said he has no regrets.
"It came very naturally for me to help these people, because they're like our brothers and sisters," he said. "We're all one, we're all the same, we're just trying to survive."
According to the Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee's most recent report card on homelessness in the city, 729 individual people accessed a shelter in 2017.
-- By Alex Cooke in Halifax