Metrobus stops used for shelter by homeless people will stay up — for now

Metrobus backed away from a plan to tear then down after meeting with St. John's City council.

Metrobus backed away from plan after meeting with St. John's City council

A sign on a bus shelter reads "This shelter will be removed by February 15, 2023. Please call 722-9400 for further information."
This bus shelter outside the Gathering Place in St. John's is being taken down on Feb. 15, according to signs placed on the glass. The decision has drawn ire from advocates and city councillors. (Joanne Thompson/Twitter)

The City of St. John's says a pair of bus shelters being used by some homeless people to escape the elements will stay in place — for now. 

A press release issued Monday afternoon by City of St. John's communications manager Susan Bonnell said city council met with Metrobus representatives to discuss the bus shelters.

"Council and Metrobus agree this bus shelter must stay in place for the time being."

The statement comes after Metrobus said it would remove the two shelters, which sit outside the Gathering Place in the city's downtown — a move Paul Davis, executive director of the homeless centre, said left him shocked and disappointed.

Davis said he was concerned for the clients at the Gathering Place who use the bus shelters to get some escape from the elements, and doesn't understand why the decision to tear down the shelters had been made.

"In recent months, I've had one complaint from an area resident on that bus shelter," Davis said Monday. "That's it. Just one."

The bus shelters on Military Road are just steps from the entrance to the Gathering Place's emergency shelter. They've been used by clients of the Gathering Place who Davis said either chose not to stay at the emergency shelter or were turned away because the building was at capacity.

Paul Davis, executive director of the Gathering Place in St. John's, says he's disappointed by the decision to remove the shelters. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Davis said Metrobus general manager Judy Powell raised concerns in September about garbage in and around the shelters, as well as staff reporting needles being found inside. Davis said he gave Metrobus executives a tour of the Gathering Place — which serves as a service hub for vulnerable people, providing things like meals, showers and health care — and they came to an agreement. Since September, Davis said, his staff have been cleaning the bus shelter every day.

On Friday, a sign was posted on the bus shelters saying they were being removed on Feb. 15. 

"I haven't heard anything negative since [September] so I was really taken aback by it," Davis said.

Davis said the decision was also upsetting because Metrobus received funding from the provincial government to provide vouchers to residents on income support, which was done to help people like the clients at the Gathering Place. Now, he said, the company has turned around and removed part of that service.

"The irony is just unbelievable," he said. "We feel like now they're kind of fighting against us."

Metrobus general manager Judy Powell declined an interview request, directing CBC News to the statement from the City of St. John's. "I won't be making further comment at this time," she wrote in an email.

In Monday's release, the city acknowledged "there are ongoing safety and service issues associated with this shelter that must be addressed."

"City staff, together with representatives of the St. John's Transportation Commission, will be reaching out to the Gathering Place to develop a plan for the management of this bus shelter," reads the release.

Councillors upset at decision made by city agency

The decision to remove the shelters also caught the ire of several St. John's city councillors, including Ophelia Ravencroft.

She wrote a stern letter to the Metrobus general manager, urging them to keep the shelters in place.

Ravencroft said Metrobus has no reason to remove the shelters, since their complaints are already being handled — the Gathering Place is cleaning the shelters, and city employees with 311 are tasked with picking up discarded needles.

"There are systems that are already in place to deal with some of the problems that might arise here. and I think that to take the entire shelter away when systems like that are already in place seems like a very intense reaction, and I would argue an overreaction," she said Monday.

A person with dark hair in a dark dress stands next to a shrub.
St. John's city councillor Ophelia Ravencroft says the decision to remove the shelters amounts to 'cruelty.' (Vote Ophelia for Ward 2/Facebook)

Metrobus is an entity of the City of St. John's, governed by the city's transportation commission. While Ravencroft is not a member of the commission, fellow councillors Maggie Burton and Ian Froude are. Both have been vocal about their disappointment over the decision on social media.

Ravencroft said she can't understand why the decision to tear down the shelters was made now, in the midst of the coldest month of the year.

"I wrote my email to Judy Powell on Saturday when it was –25 with the windchill outside," she said. "That little bit of protection from the elements in a bus shelter is unfortunately going to be critical for some folks that are sleeping rough.… [It's] certainly something that I would argue will have a very negative impact that borders on, if not passes the line of, cruelty."

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With files from The St. John's Morning Show