New Brunswick

Moncton has 'obligation to act' in fight against homelessness in city

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.

Coun. Paul Pellerin plans to seek council support for $20,000 in funding to boost emergency shelter capacity

A person sits among things saved from a homeless tent camp in Moncton the city demolished last week. A city councillor says the city can take a greater role in addressing homelessness. (Pierre Fournier/CBC News)

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.

Moncton City Councillor Paul Pellerin says " ... council must have a public debate on this and decide whether or not we want to help. No more ambiguity!" 11:10

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.

Coun. Paul Pellerin says he thinks the city has an obligation to act as homelessness increases. (Shane Magee/CBC News)

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.

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold plans to meet with the province's new finance minister to seek 'immediate assistance' to shelter homeless people this winter. (Shane Magee/CBC)

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.

Dorothy Shephard, the province's minister of social development, says federal funding won't be available until April 1, 2019, by which time the province's affordable housing plan will be in place. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

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.

Council discussion

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.

A CN police officer speaks to several people forced from a tent camp built near the rail line south of West Main Street in Moncton. RCMP now say stolen property was found at the camp. (Pierre Fournier/CBC News)

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

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