'Making a homeless person homeless again': Moncton demolishes tent camp
Man says he was one of six removed from a site south of West Main Street on Thursday morning
Robert Murray awoke Thursday to police commands to leave the tent he's called home in recent months along a Moncton rail line.
The 48-year-old and his dog, Whiss, have been homeless since July. They've lived in a tent camp south of West Main Street behind car dealerships with up to 14 other people.
After the six people there were given a few minutes to collect what they could Thursday, the camp was demolished.
"It's hard," Murray said as he watched an excavator pick up the remains of the campsite and drop it into a truck.
"You're making a homeless person homeless again. More homeless. We had tents, we had a place that we could go sit, like a living room waiting area type area."
Murray said he lost about 90 per cent of his belongings, including clothing.
"We just didn't have enough time to grab it," he said.
Murray spoke because he wanted to bring attention to homelessness in the community.
Sgt. Dave MacDonnell with Codiac RCMP say officers went to the site to assist the city. He said people there were told to leave, but no one was arrested. CN police were also keeping watch.
Isabelle LeBlanc, Moncton's director of communications, said city parks crews cleaned up what appeared to be a large site.
Advocates and frontline workers say homelessness is a growing issue in the province's largest city.
Since a homeless person died in 2013 in a fire in a vacant home, the city has tracked and demolished dozens of derelict and unsafe properties, mainly near downtown.
But demolishing unsafe properties has been linked to the growing homelessness issue.
Harvest House, a shelter with 34 emergency beds, has had up to 40 people overnight, some sleeping on mattresses on the floor.
Cal Maskery, executive director of Harvest House, told a recent city council meeting the fire department expressed concern about the shelter going over capacity.
Denise McCluskey, development and marketing officer with Harvest House, said the shelter saw a spike in use over the summer. She said one of the biggest factors is the demolition of rooming houses.
'Worst that we've seen'
Last month at a Downtown Moncton Centre-ville Inc. budget meeting, shop owners voiced concern about panhandling in the city's core.
"I think it's the worst that we've seen in our downtown lately," said Grace Williston, a co-owner of the Stile Fashion Accessories shop on Main Street.
LeBlanc said the city was notified about the homeless camp but wasn't able to offer further details Thursday.
"The City of Moncton cannot resolve the social issues we are seeing in the community by itself," LeBlanc said in an emailed statement. "We've said it before, this needs to be a collaborative effort between all levels of government, local agencies and services, as well as the community.
"This situation once again highlights the need for a multi-governmental strategy to address issues related to homelessness, mental health, addiction and lack of affordable housing."
In November 2016, Moncton, Dieppe and the province hired SHS Consulting to study the housing situation in the area and project what might be required in the future.
Its report presented last year found found a dire need of more affordable and smaller homes and apartments in the region. Council hired the same consultant to draft an implementation plan.
While city officials said the plan would be implemented by summer 2018, it hasn't.
LeBlanc said in an email the plan will come to council next March.
Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold said at Monday's council meeting, and again after budget meetings this week, that the city's plan has been held up while the federal and provincial governments' draft related to affordable housing plans.
The affordable housing strategy has to "trickle down to the municipal level," she said Monday. "We are in a desperate situation here, so we need to ensure that that is a high priority for our provincial government to get going on."
On Thursday, Murray, standing near the few items belonging to him and the other five at the homeless camp the city demolished, wasn't sure where he'd spend the night.
"It's going to be a tent, for sure, right now. I've been looking since August to find a place," he said, adding he's been working with the Humanity Project to find a home where he can keep his dog.