New Brunswick

Moncton council warned more shelter options needed or some homeless people may die this winter

Moncton, N.B., councillors were given a stark warning Monday night by advocates for homeless people that lives may be lost without more spaces for them to stay this winter.

Advocate says city should open arena, community centre space to get people out of the cold

Trevor Goodwin, senior director of outreach services for the YMCA of Greater Moncton, called for the city to open arenas or community centres to house the growing number of homeless people. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Moncton, N.B., councillors were given a stark warning by advocates for homeless people that lives may be lost without more spaces for them to stay this winter.

"We need a drop-in [centre], we need city-owned buildings to be repurposed for things," Trevor Goodwin, senior director of outreach services at the YMCA of Greater Moncton, told council Monday.

"We need money spent. We need assistance for this. We have people that will die outside this winter if we don't have places repurposed."

Goodwin said a recent count tallied "north of 500" individuals living outside or couch surfing. That's up from an estimated 400 in late summer. The figure doesn't include those staying in homeless shelters, which Goodwin said are already operating near capacity.

"We have an exorbitant amount of individuals unsheltered outside. An unprecedented amount," he said.

The call for more space to shelter those without a home echoed last-minute scrambles in previous years.

Last winter, St. George's Anglican Church in the downtown opened its doors to help temporarily house homeless people. Rev. Chris VanBuskirk, speaking after Goodwin Monday, said the city needs to identify a place and make it happen.

"What becomes of a society that allows people to freeze to death?" VanBuskirk said.

"How will we deal with the moral injuries and traumatic injuries incurred by members of the general public when they discover frozen bodies this winter? What would happen if pets were left outdoors on winter nights without proper shelter?"

Rev. Chris VanBuskirk says the city should identify a location and gather those who can help. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

The back-to-back presentations by Goodwin and VanBuskirk led to several councillors suggesting council meet and talk about what to do.

"I know we wanted to try to stay in our lane and what we're responsible for," Coun. Charles Leger said. "But again, at the end of the day there's a moral responsibility and I think that's where we're going."

City manager Marc Landry suggested the issue could be discussed again at a committee meeting Monday.

Mayor Dawn Arnold said the province's minister of Social Development should be involved in the discussion. Arnold said she met with the deputy minister in late September. She said they indicated the province would be "stepping up and that they had this under control."

However, she said the city has told the province that its plans, which have yet to be made public, are inadequate.

It's seniors. It's youth. It's working poor individuals who have lost a job, missed a paycheque, sleeping in their cars because the cost of living is going up, rents are going up and there's zero protection.- Trevor Goodwin

Last month, the province announced it would spend an additional $8 million over three years to increase emergency shelter capacity across the province. No details were provided about how or where the money would be spent.

Goodwin told reporters he is working with the province to open a "stabilization space," with details expected to be announced shortly. 

But, Goodwin said it's only part of the solution and won't be enough to meet the growing demand.

He told councillors that about 90 per cent of the region's homeless population is from New Brunswick. He said the majority are from the Greater Moncton area.

"That the influx, or inflow, into homelessness right now is not the guy out on the street screaming at the sky or the girl with the needle in her arm," Goodwin said.

"It's seniors. It's youth. It's working poor individuals who have lost a job, missed a paycheque, sleeping in their cars because the cost of living is going up, rents are going up and there's zero protection."

Arnold ended the discussion with a plea to the province. 

"I really hope if the minister of Social Development is listening — and our provincial members of the legislature with their $774-million surplus right now — it's time for them to take care of this critical issue in our community."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC. He can be reached at shane.magee@cbc.ca.

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