Saint John — A recent story out of Alberta detailing the housing struggle of a Saint John expat has Premier Brian Gallant mildly concerned.
A few months ago, John Steeves, age 25, left the Port City to find work in Western Canada. He quickly secured a $15-per-hour job in the town of Banff — a dream salary for any New Brunswicker who isn’t a doctor, lawyer, politician, or the child of a doctor, lawyer or politician. What he has not been able to find is a place to live.
“It’s still a better life than I could have out east,” said Steeves. “In Saint John, I’d only be making like $10 an hour and that’s if I could even get a minimum-wage job! I’m not bilingual, so that’s a strike against me. I have a science degree and an IT diploma from community college, so most employers say I’m overqualified. I also hear that I don’t have enough experience, but how I am supposed to get that if they don’t give me chance?
“And why doesn’t the practical training of school or all the volunteer work I’ve done count as experience?”
Unfortunately, for a great number of New Brunswick youth, Steeves’ story is so familiar it almost reads like a cliché.
“Back home, I couldn’t afford an apartment, utilities, transportation, insurance, food, dental coverage, let alone entertainment or a social life, and of course paying down my student loans. My options were: be homeless in New Brunswick while making only $10 an hour — IF I could get hired — or be homeless in Alberta, making $15 an hour.”
When not working, Steeves spends his days trying to sneak naps in public parks. He pretends to be tanning, but he wears sunglasses so he can sleep. Come nighttime, he sits in the 24-hour Tim Hortons, slowly nursing a coffee until sunrise.
“Ah geez,” said Premier Gallant, upon reading the news on his Facebook feed. “I unfriended the person who posted the original story because Blaze and I really don’t need to see that sort of thing on social media. We like seeing funny videos, pictures of dogs, stuff like that. Not real things like this, about how average New Brunswickers — especially people near my age — can’t make ends meet and need to go be homeless in other provinces just so they can have a job.
“I mean, people can be homeless… in this place, right? Y’know, if I had to be homeless, I’d at least like to be somewhere familiar. This guy, he’s spending his nights in Tims with workers he doesn’t even know. Friendly faces are nice to see, especially when you’re homeless! As for the tanning in the daytime thing…well, you can’t tan in Saint John because of the fog, but they’ve got some nice parks to sleep in. He should come home, I say.”
Being a national park, police crack down hard on “illegal camping.” Alternatively, in New Brunswick, tent cities commonly pop up along the banks of the St. John River in the summer with little interference from law enforcement.
Meanwhile, workers like Steeves are determined to make it in Alberta because, if nothing else, airfare back to New Brunswick is just too damned expensive.