Moncton councillors call for elimination of downtown tent camp
City staff also preparing a backup plan in case new homeless shelter isn't ready by winter
Several Moncton councillors say they support clearing out a tent camp downtown, which is currently home to about 40 people.
The site is less than a kilometre from the planned location of House of Nazareth's new homeless shelter. The city has allowed the tents to remain until the shelter opens. It has added portable washrooms, garbage pickup and posted security.
But several council members say complaints from nearby businesses and residents mean they need to act soon, even if the shelter isn't open.
"We want everyone in our community to be safe, that is our goal," Dawn Arnold said at the end of an hour-long discussion of the tent site and shelter during a committee meeting Monday. "And I think we need to clean things up."
She said public sentiment in the community has completely reversed since last November when there was an outcry over the city demolishing a similar tent camp near West Main Street.
"I think as a council we can have a conversation about when, not if, we close this tent city," said Coun. Blair Lawrence. He asked the city to prepare a list of its spending related to the site.
Jocelyn Cohoon, the city's director of recreation and leisure, said the city is spending about $30,000 per month on things like security at the site. She said the city will likely request provincial funding to cover some of its expenses.
Plan B in the works
City staff told council they've been working on a "Plan B" to get people off the streets if the winter approaches and the new shelter isn't open. Cohoon said that planning began in July when it became clear House of Nazareth would miss its planned opening date of Aug. 1.
The city confirmed Monday that House of Nazareth has yet to apply for a building permit for the shelter.
Jean Dubé, House of Nazareth's executive director, said last week he wasn't aware of several regulations the shelter would have to meet before it could open.
He said the city has hired a project manager and architect to prepare plans required by provincial law. A fire marshal's order issued Aug. 8 prevents the shelter from opening until those plans are approved.
Last week, Dubé dismissed the idea that a Plan B would be necessary.
"I see no reason for that," Dubé said.
Several councillors expressed frustration with the missed steps Monday.
"Plan B is definitely what we need," Coun. Susan Edgett said at Monday's meeting.
Coun. Charles Léger was more optimistic.
'Sooner than later'
"I think you're going to see this progress, and I really am confident," Léger said of the shelter. "I think it will be sooner than later."
Cohoon told reporters there's no specific timeframe or location for the backup shelter. She said the city remains hopeful House of Nazareth's shelter will open before another site is needed.
She said it's hard to know how many of the 127 people living outside will go to the Albert Street shelter once it opens. A number of people have raised concerns about strict rules previously in place at House of Nazareth's Clark Street shelter or Harvest House on High Street.
Cohoon said the city has only heard "tidbits" from Dubé about what rules will be in place and has yet to receive a full plan that would help determine how many people will use the shelter once it's open.
Abigail McCarthy, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Development, said the province is confident House of Nazareth "will overcome these challenges and open soon."