Fredericton doctor looks to buy Clinic 554 to turn into housing for those in recovery

Dr. Sara Davidson has been working with those who suffer from addictions in the Fredericton-area for years, and has noticed a growing – and critical – gap in their care.

The medical director of River Stone Recovery Centre in downtown Fredericton, which specializes in treating people who suffer from addictions, says she’s been trying to find a location to build apartments for those trying to recover.

She first tried the area around the Victoria Health Centre, which houses mental health and detox centres, as well as non-profits who work with vulnerable populations. It also shares a parking lot with one of Fredericton’s homeless shelters, and its community kitchen.

“I can assure everybody, that I have tried for three up to four years to advocate to have access to that land in terms of creating something like a centre of excellence in terms of mental health,” said Dr. Davidson. “Not just on my own, but I see that potential there. There’s so much opportunity and there’s already existing services down there. And it really is a time where I would encourage the community, especially if they’re concerned with seeing so much homelessness and seeing how many people are suffering outside – in the conversations we’re having as a broader community – what can we do with that location?”

She said she’s been trying to work with the province, but other than an openness to conversation – no progress has been made.

So she set her sights on Clinic 554.

“My hope is that we'll be able to work with the existing structure and I have some engineers that are helping me sort that out that are familiar with the building already, fortunately, and it would just be building up from there,” she said.

Her tentative plan is to turn it into a four-story building, with about 24 units.

It won’t be a drop-in centre, rather a residence that includes programing to help people develop life-skills, like training and interviewing for jobs.

Clinic 554 has its own history of trying to help under-served communities. Once known as the Morgentaler Clinic, it provided abortion services for decades, before turning into a family practice that still specializes in reproductive care, as well as transgender healthcare.

The clinic’s current physician told CTV Atlantic in an email that he would be “happy to know our legacy of caring for stigmatized people facing difficult times in their lives will go on,” should the clinic turn into a residence.

“The clinic hasn't sold yet but Dr. Davidson has made an offer,” Dr. Adrian Edgar said. “Dr. Morgentaler designed the clinic to ensure the highest caliber of best practice and evidence-based care is available to New Brunswickers when our province fails to do so. The housing crisis is an unacceptable failure. The opioid epidemic is an unacceptable failure. All humans need homes and we all deserve to be honoured and cared for, particularly at our most vulnerable moments.”

“I would be definitely commemorating and memorializing somehow within the structure what has stood there before, the pioneers in healthcare especially social justice healthcare,” Dr. Davidson said.

The physician says it can be frustrating to try and treat someone with addiction who doesn’t have access to stable housing, because there’s only so much progress they can make. She feels it’s the key to their recovery.

Concerns raised in the community

There are some concerns about the clinic’s location, which essentially shares a backyard with George Street Middle School.

David McTimoney, superintendent of the Anglophone West School District, said he and the principal of the school are aware of the plans for the clinic, and recognize that “many societal challenges need attention in our communities.”

“It is not our practice to comment on what owners do with their property,” he said in an email. “I will say, however, that our objective is to do all we can to ensure the safety and security of our students, staff, and property.  That will continue to be the case if anything occurs in a school neighborhood that requires further attention.”

A statement from the city of Fredericton says it understands “the public may have concerns and will use the existing laws and bylaws available to us as appropriate.”

Fredericton-south MLA David Coon believes it’s about good communication, with the neighbourhood and school community.

“It’s really a question of engaging with the community, with the neighbourhood, with the George Street Middle School community in particular,” Coon said. “Meet with everybody, talk about what's being planned, answering questions and I think that they'll get to a point where there will be that level of comfort that's necessary. I'm hopeful that that will happen sooner rather than later.”

He's also waiting to hear from the province about the Victoria Health Centre.

Dr. Davidson has heard the concerns. She’s hoping, as more learn about the details, they’ll recognize the outcome that’s possible.  

“Incredibly resilient people who want to give back to the community is what we'll have when these people are housed, so as much as people are afraid I guess I want to reassure them that they will have the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing characters they've ever would have come across and those who really do, genuinely want to give back to the community.”