Moncton has 'obligation to act' in fight against homelessness in city
Coun. Paul Pellerin plans to seek council support for $20,000 in funding to boost emergency shelter capacity
A Moncton councillor says the city should take a greater role in tackling homelessness, starting with temporary funding to get people off the streets this winter.
"I think we have an obligation to act," Coun. Paul Pellerin said Thursday.
He plans to introduce a motion at Monday's council meeting to set aside $20,000 in city funds to help shelters and groups that need more capacity to house homeless people.
"If there's a church group or another shelter that can accommodate these individuals — and not knowing how they're going to fund the cots, the electrical power, heat and whatnot — the City of Moncton would hopefully partner with them as a temporary solution," Pellerin said.
The motion would set the stage for a political debate over the city's obligation in dealing with social issues, which city officials have said are provincial and federal responsibilities.
Pellerin disagrees with that position, saying the city can take on a greater role if council wishes.
Homelessness has come under increased scrutiny ever since the city and RCMP demolished a homeless tent camp last week, prompting calls for political action.
Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold posted a plea for ideas from residents on Facebook after the camp was demolished. She said the city is considering ways to mandate subsidized units with market rents and to get derelict buildings signed over to non-profits, among other steps.
CBC requested an interview with Arnold, but was told she would speak after meeting with Ernie Steeves, the province's new finance minister, to seek help on Friday.
Isabelle LeBlanc, the city's director of communications, said in an email the mayor will request "immediate assistance to help alleviate the situation as the cold weather is settling in."
LeBlanc said the city has heard from churches and other organizations that are considering opening their doors.
Shelters in the city have been operating over capacity. The YMCA's ReConnect outreach program reported recently that about 120 people are sleeping outdoors in the city's parks and tents.
The city has a plan to increase affordable housing, but it's on hold awaiting funding to implement the recommendations.
Dorothy Shephard, the province's social development minister, said New Brunswick has signed a funding agreement with the federal government, but the money won't start to flow until April 1, 2019.
"Our strategy is still being finalized, our action plan is still being developed, and will certainly be in place ready for those monies to be accessed," she said Thursday.
Pellerin was one of two councillors who resigned from the city's social inclusion committee out of frustration with the pace of action on affordable housing and homelessness.
He said he'll be disappointed if the motion is rejected Monday.
"At least the residents of Moncton will know where city hall stands," Pellerin said.
Coun. Paulette Thériault also expressed frustration.
"We've just offered Band Aid solutions on this issue," Thériault said.
She wants council to have a thorough discussion of what the city is doing to address homelessness, discussions that have mainly occurred at the staff and committee levels.
"Our staff are doing everything they can, but there has to be the political will," she said.
"As a group, we need to make a decision that this is a priority — not just homelessness, but people with drug issues and mental health issues."
Tent camp included stolen property
More details emerged this week about the demolition of the tent camp last week on city property near West Main Street last week.
Codiac Regional RCMP originally told CBC there were no arrests and police were there to assist the city while it cleaned up the site.
However, Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh said police received complaints from local businesses and residents.
The spokeswoman for RCMP in New Brunswick said there were several arrests and stolen property was recovered. She wasn't able to provide any more specific information or say if anyone has been charged.
With files from Hadeel Ibrahim