New Brunswick

Frontline workers say number of Moncton homeless 'skyrocketing'

Staff at Moncton's only two homeless shelters and a drop-in centre all say their services are in higher demand than seen in years.

'We’re back to mats on the floor for the first time in 6 years'

Donald Morel is living at House of Nazareth, a homeless shelter in Moncton. He was living in a tent but moved to the shelter after he was diagnosed with cancer. He said he'd live in an apartment if he could afford one. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Staff at Moncton's only two homesless shelters and a drop-in centre say the demand on their services is at a level not seen in years.

Lisa Ryan, director of YMCA ReConnect, said the answer as to why more people are in need of homeless shelters and a drop-in centre is clear :"affordable housing, that is a huge piece missing."

In the last few weeks, she said, "our numbers are skyrocketing."

Lisa Ryan is the executive director of YMCA ReConnect. Frustrated by what she can offer at the moment, Ryan said, "unfortunately what we have right now is very little."

"Generally we'll see 20 to 25 people," she said. "The past couple of weeks we've seen a major increase where we're seeing close to 40, 45, 50 individuals coming through the door."

One of those people is Donald Morel. He said he lived in a tent in Moncton for three years before being diagnosed with cancer and moving into a shelter. He said he'd love to get an apartment, if he could afford one.

"Sometimes living on the streets is really hard because you don't have power, you don't have place to take a shower."

'We need more space'

Places like ReConnect make a big difference, according to Morel, it's "a place to have coffee and they don't have enough place like this in Moncton."

You have someone experiencing homelessness sitting across the desk from you and, I want to cry with them because I can't offer them anything more than what I have.- Lisa Ryan, director of YMCA ReConnect

Morel would also like to see more affordable housing created because, speaking from experience, Harvest House is too full, he said.

"We need more space."

During the winter, Harvest House opens its doors during the day to give people a break from the cold. About a dozen people sip coffee and chat, sitting at tables. But at night, it's much closer quarters.

"We're back to mats on the floor for the first time in six years," said Cal Maskery, founder and executive director of Harvest House.

The shelter has 32 beds but has a policy of not turning anyone away, so people sleep on mattresses in the hallway or on the floor of the tightly packed bedrooms.

The Moncton shelter Harvest House is operating at above capacity. Mattresses are being put on floors in dorm rooms and in hallways to accommodate the increased demand. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

The city's other shelter, House of Nazareth, is also finding all its beds taken. Executive director Deo Cuma said this is the first time in eight years his shelter is full.

Through different housing programs, Maskery felt like his organization was getting somewhere, putting a dent in the homelessness problem in Moncton. But he said any progress seems out the window when he looks at the the numbers.

"When we built this place, the idea was not to have mats on the floor, so six years later — we'll have to make some adjustments," he said.

Maskery can only guess the reason behind the increased need, but he said the loss of low-cost rooming houses and a surge in drug use are two reasons that come to mind.

Cal Maskery, founder of Harvest House in Moncton, said the shelter is over capacity. He said staff is putting out mats on the floor to keep up with demand. There are eight beds for women at the shelter, and Maskery said this week is the first time he's seen the women's section over capacity. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Derelict homes

In 2014, after the death of a homeless man in a fire in an abandoned home where he was sleeping, the City of Moncton initiated a fire prevention initiative. Thirteen derelict homes were demolished in 2014.

The campaign to remove unsafe housing has continued.

In December, three homes were deemed dangerous by the fire marshal and demolished. Some residents were still living in the apartments when the 24-hour eviction notice was given. The fire marshal said squatters where also living in the homes.

'What we have right now is very little'

Ryan said she was familiar with the homes and she agreed it was not a safe living situation. 

"That being said, when you have individuals coming to you with their eviction notices and the most you can suggest is, 'You're going to need to stay in shelter,'" she said, articulating the frustration.

"You have someone experiencing homelessness sitting across the desk from you and, I want to cry with them because I can't offer them anything more than what I have." 

Ryan added: "Unfortunately, what we have right now is very little."

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold was not made available for an interview. The city commissioned a study on housing needs in Moncton and Dieppe in 2017. 

Isabelle LeBlanc, communication director for the City of Moncton, said an implementation plan is in the works and should be ready by late summer.