A housing unit for adults with mental illness has been operating at full capacity since it opened in Fredericton last year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Costello House opened its doors on March 25, 2020 — the same time COVID cases started to rise in the province.
“It was just evolving so fast it was hard to keep up,” said Stephanie Brewer, executive director of New Brunswick Community Residences, a non-profit that oversees Costello House.
At one point, everyone was quarantining inside the house because a staff member was showing symptoms of the disease, which ended up being a flu-bug.
“With the restrictions, it’s had its ups and downs but overall we’ve done really well,” she said.
“I’m so proud of the staff and I’m so proud of the residents throughout the whole year. They’ve really shown a lot of resilience.”
Costello House filled up within the first two months of opening and has remained full over the past year.
Waiting list continues to grow
The non-profit organization has six clients and offers support to people with a variety of mental health issues. Although she doesn’t have an exact number, Brewer said the waiting list keeps growing.
“If we opened a new program tomorrow, we would probably be full within a month or two.”
Brewer said she receives calls on a regular basis from the Department of Social Development, hospitals and people in the community asking if there’s space available.
Costello House is one of four facilities in Fredericton, all of which are full.
“It breaks my heart when we have to say, ‘No we’re full,'” she said.
Brewer said there is a need in New Brunswick for more facilities like Costello House.
Gaining a sense of purpose
She’s hopeful to get enough funding in place to expand services and open another facility in New Brunswick’s capital.
“Our whole goal … is to try to help individuals help individuals who have a mental health disability become as independent as they possibly can be,” she said.
Brewer said Costello House has allowed some residents to gain enough confidence to start a new job, volunteer and take courses. “They’re gaining that sense of purpose.”
Honouring a life lost
The facility is named after Const. Robb Costello, a Fredericton police officer who died after a gunman opened fire on the city’s north side on Aug. 10, 2018. Const. Sara Burns and two civilians, Donnie Robichaud and Bobbie Lee Wright, were also killed that morning.
“I believe very strongly that if Robb had the opportunity to speak to him that day, Robb and Sara would still be alive today,” said Costello’s partner, Jackie McLean, who also chairs the board of the non-profit.
“Robb had a way with people, he could diffuse the situation.”
McLean, a mental health activist for more than a decade, said Costello would have been proud of the facility — and a bit embarrassed to have it named after him.
“Everything he did made a difference in the lives of other people,” said McLean. “He’s just continuing to do that through Costello House.”
Although she’s proud of the services offered by Costello House, McLean said more needs to be done to help those living with mental illness.
She wants to open three other facilities over the next decade and have them named after the other three victims of the Fredericton shooting.
“It’s important to recognize the impact they had when they were alive, even when they’re gone,” McLean said.