The Transition House Association of Newfoundland and Labrador is a voluntary, nonprofit community-based organization whose mandate is to strengthen and support the network of provincially funded shelters and services for women – with or without children – affected by relationship violence. Our Community Engagement Coordinator, Jessie Golem, recently had a conversation with Dan Meades about the work that THANL is doing, and their upcoming community conversation.
Jessie Golem (JG): Tell me about the work that The Transition House Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (THA) is doing.
Dan Meades (DM): The THA works with shelters for women and children fleeing violence. We’ve got eleven shelters here in Newfoundland and all the way up the coast of Labrador. My job is to help those shelters work together and work with the government to make good decisions for those organizations and the women that they serve.
JG: What are some of the issues that you’re seeing in the Atlantic provinces?
DM: Specific to climate change, or in the work that I’m doing?
JG: Both. Let’s start with climate change.
DM: Sure. What we’re seeing here in Newfoundland and Labrador is concern around what the province’s responses to climate change has been, and how they’re going to likely affect Indigenous communities. One of the big issues here has been a mega hydro project called Muskrat Falls. It was intended to be a sustainable infrastructure piece for Newfoundland and Labrador, as a means to get our electricity grid off a coal-fired plant. [The Muskrat Falls project has been under construction since 2013 and was the subject of a public inquiry that deemed the project misguided.] The response has been that Indigenous communities haven’t felt heard about the development, and some of the environmental impacts that have already happened and are likely to happen in the future are affecting those communities. It’s created quite an interesting divide in which some of us who care about climate change feel like, in general, hydroelectric development can at times be a good thing. But doing it at the expense of our Indigenous communities doesn’t make any sense.
JG: That’s such a waste of money and resources, and it’s still harming the environment and harming people.
DM: Everybody’s angry, including the government, who blames the previous government.
I think our Indigenous communities wouldn’t necessarily be against development here. It’s just that the environmental impacts [of the Muskrat Falls project] on their way of life were predictable, and are now happening.
JG: That’s so frustrating. To sort of segue off of that, what else interested you about the Green Resilience Project?
DM: The intersection between climate change and economic disparity or economic inequality is interesting to me. As we see the problem of our lifetime get more intense everyday, we’re going to see those of us who have the resources to deal with it are going to be able to deal with it, but those without are not going to be able to do so. Our Indigenous coastal communities are going to feel that first here in Newfoundland and Labrador. The intersection between climate change and poverty is fascinating to me.
JG: But your organization would focus more on economic disparity than climate change, correct?
DM: That’s right. Housing, homelessness, domestic violence and poverty are the areas that we focus on. But as we think about upstream causes of all of those things, you’ve got to be aware that climate change is the problem.
JG: Yeah, yeah. It is the problem of our time.
DM: We had our premier Andrew Furey, who’s a Liberal Party leader, at COP26. He gave an interview to the CBC, in which he said, “As I said to someone at the COP26 conference, ‘How are you getting home?’…There is a time and a place for oil and gas…No oil is perfectly clean, but we have some of the cleanest product in the entire world. It’s a product that the world needs right now in terms of transition.” And I thought, how reductive it is to think of asking a bunch of people at a climate conference about the importance of oil and gas to fuel their flights to get home from a climate conference. It just felt like, what are we doing?
JG: I think it’s like everybody knows what we need to do. It seems pretty obvious and clear, but nobody wants to do it.
JG: I guess some of the major issues [you’d be seeing in Newfoundland and Labrador] are issues like domestic violence, poverty and homelessness as a result of climate change.
DM: It’s not quite that direct and linear at this point. But as we think about long-term trends about poverty, climate change is going to be a factor there. Climate disaster is part of it as well—these things are going to exacerbate income inequality. Those without resources aren’t going to be able to afford the cost of everything going up. The inflexibility in the system. The added expense to the housing market. All of those things are going to hurt vulnerable people first.
JG: Does your organization have any responses to that?
DM: Nope. We run emergency shelters, so keeping the doors open during the pandemic was the order of the day. And now we’re coming out the other side of that emergency feeling and thinking about what next steps are. We think about poverty and income inequality ideologically, but not organizationally.
JG: It sounds like you’re sort of treating the problem right at the front line. It’s hard to have the resources to be able to address the broader issues that create these problems in the first place.
DM: We also have to follow our mandate. So at the end of the day, we’re going to continue to provide emergency housing for women and children who need it within Newfoundland and Labrador. That’s our role, but the upstream advocacy work we do tends to be on that poverty piece.
JG: The other part of the work that [the Green Resilience Project focuses on], or at least we’re wanting to talk about, is community resilience. How do people respond to the issues [we’ve discussed]? Is there any sort of community resilience that helps build resources within your community to address these issues?
DM: There has been a group in Labrador organizing around the Muskrat Falls development. They call themselves the Labrador Land Protectors, and I think there is some interesting resilience there. And there’s a network of nonprofits that do expressly environmental work. I also think that there is a growing citizen movement around transportation here in the St. John’s area, around public transportation and specifically around cycling infrastructure.
JG: My next question was going to be where are some of the potential solutions to these issues, but it sounds like there are people on the ground [already] doing this work.
DM: Yeah, I think there is some of that work happening. When we think about the political conversations here in Newfoundland and Labrador, I don’t think that climate change is at the forefront of those conversations.
JG: Do you have any ideas as to why it [isn’t]?
DM: I think people are concerned about their own economic future more than they’re concerned about the planet.
JG: And I think [some] people may only have the mental capacity to think about themselves in the short-term.
DM: Totally. Also, it’s such an intractable problem. Like, go to someone who’s just above the poverty line and tell them to change the way they live. It doesn’t make sense.
JG: People aren’t thinking about recycling better when they’re concerned with how they’re going to pay rent and feed their children.
DM: And also, I think there is a sense, and this resonates with me, that individual action isn’t going to solve this problem.
JG: No, no, it’s corporate accountability.
DM: I don’t think it’s that people don’t care. I just don’t know that they have the capacity, economically or [mentally], to do anything about it. The interesting thing for me is that so many of the individual choices [framed as climate solutions] are assumed to make a difference, but I don’t believe that they [do] in a lot of cases. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do them, but they all come at an economic cost. So then asking people who are just barely above the poverty line to make economically disadvantaging choices doesn’t feel fair to me.
JG: For sure. Economic security can be a barrier to address climate change.
JG: I imagine that the conversation that you’re going to be having is going to be difficult because of that.
DM: Yeah, I’m looking forward to the conversation, but I think there’ll be some challenges to it for sure.
JG: Who are you inviting to the conversation?
DM: [There will be] two segments. One, I plan on using transition houses as a way of ensuring that we’ve got some good economic representation. But also allowing the environmental groups, and nonprofits to use their networks to invite people as well.
JG: So you’re sort of partnering with a bunch of local nonprofits and groups based out of St. John’s and Labrador.
DM: There will be two separate conversations, one in Newfoundland, and another in Labrador.
JG: What are you hoping to learn from the conversations?
DM: Gosh, I don’t know. I mean, I think the intention is to just go in with an open mind and let people say whatever’s on their mind, whatever is going to work for them at the moment. I’m not going in with any instructions to learn, just to create some space for folks to speak.
More information about the Transition House Association of Newfoundland and Labrador can be found here.