New Brunswick

Moncton offered hopeful outlook on tackling homelessness

Moncton councillors were told the city is seeing some progress in its efforts to address homelessness. 

Councillors heard from experts on efforts to reduce chronic homelessness

A person pushes a shopping cart filled with items after a homeless tent camp was dismantled in downtown Moncton in 2019. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Moncton councillors were told the city is making progress in its efforts to address homelessness. 

Homelessness, crime and illicit drug use have come to dominate council meetings as various approaches to address the issues have been tried, including boosting policing and financially backing an affordable housing group. 

Tuesday's meeting included a resident describing encampments and crime off Salisbury Road, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton outline plans for a forum on homelessness and downtown security, and an update on the city's affordable housing strategy. 

Dawn Wheadon with the Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee told councillors the city is on track to reach what's known as "functional zero chronic homelessness" by May 2023.

That means homelessness isn't eliminated, but instead is rare, brief, and non-recurring.

The 2023 goal relies on Rising Tide Community Initiatives. It received $15.4 million from the federalprovincial and municipal governments to create up to 160 affordable housing units over three years.

A property owned by Rising Tide along St. George Street in Moncton shown in July as work began on an apartment building with affordable housing units. (Shane Magee/CBC)

The non-profit group was launched based on the city's affordable housing plan recommending funding a housing entity.

It was an update to that plan that saw various city staff, non-profit officials and out-of-province homelessness experts addressing councillors Tuesday. 

Councillors heard that 129 people who were considered chronically homeless have moved into housing over the last year. Three per cent of those housed ended up back on what's called a by-name list.

The list is used to track all known people experiencing homelessness along with information people have agreed to share, used to determine how to house them. 

There were 131 people on the list as of July this year, down from a recent peak of 156 in January, councillors were told. 

Several of those presenting praised Moncton's approach so far. 

Tim Richter, president and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, said he thinks the city is in a good position to end chronic homelessness.

But he responded to suggestions earlier in the meeting by councillors that there should be more RCMP officers and community safety officers empowered to do more than provincial law currently allows.

It feels like we're losing, but you're giving us some hope we are winning.- Moncton Coun. Dave Steeves

"In our experience across the country, around North America and frankly, around the world, enforcement alone does not work," Richter said.

"You end up putting yourself into basically a very expensive and ineffective, and frankly cruel, cycle where you're simply just pushing the problem down the road."

Jaime Rogers, manager of homeless and housing development with the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society, also praised Moncton. Medicine Hat is considered a success story after claiming to have ended chronic homelessness in 2015 and by then reaching functional zero chronic homelessness.

"It feels like we're losing, but you're giving us some hope we are winning and so that's really encouraging to me, hopefully to other councillors as well," Coun. Dave Steeves said near the end of a two hour discussion on affordable housing.

He asked about how to begin changing the narrative around tackling homelessness.

"Our email inbox is filled with pictures and videos and complaints, but until today I hadn't heard those wins you shared," Steeves said of some of the data raised in the presentations. 

The optimistic outlook for Moncton largely relied on Rising Tide using the by-name list to house people. 

Wheadon told councillors she asked Rising Tide if it would do so, but wasn't given a clear answer. 

No one from Rising Tide was at the meeting and its managing director did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening. 

Meanwhile, the Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce's community task force on homelessness and downtown security has scheduled a Sept. 23 forum involving various sectors and government officials. 

A second meeting is expected in October where recommendations and an action plan are expected to be presented.

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