Moncton entrepreneurs worry about growing homeless population
Business owners on St. George Street want to help the homeless, but also need to protect their customers
The rising number of people who are homeless, and who spend much of their time along Moncton's St. George Street, is creating big challenges for many small business owners.
It is common to see people pushing shopping carts filled with their belongings in this neighbourhood that is home to shelters, soup kitchens and other services for people who are struggling.
Ben Leger, who operates a small restaurant called Notre Dame de Parkton, has seen a significant increase in people coming in and asking to use the bathroom, for a glass of water, or to just hang out.
While he feels sympathy for those who need help, he also has a responsibility to keep his employees and customers safe.
"We always want to make sure that there's two employees around. Just to have some kind of backup just in case something does happen."
Leger's concerns grew after a serious incident at his restaurant in May, when he asked a man he says was high on drugs to leave.
"He proceeded to throw a punch and he knocked me on the ground and took off running," he said.
"You don't know what you're going to get with the homeless. Some are very nice and you can talk to them and some are just not there. So it was a very weird incident for sure."
Leger's brother, Marc Leger, opened the nearby Laundromat Espresso Bar 12 years ago.
Over the years, he has gotten to know many people in the neighborhood, including some who are homeless.
He often invites them in for a cup of tea or a glass of water but says he is seeing more and more new faces.
"We had someone just come in, not order anything, sit down and have an overdose," he said. "The ambulance came over and injected her with a bit of life somehow. And she spent the day at the hospital, was released that night and was back out on St. George Street the next day."
No one has reached out to us as far as city council or Downtown Moncton or anybody for that matter. So we're kind of over here by ourselves.- Luc Doucet
Marc said that while he is familiar with many of the homeless people in the neighbourhood, he had never seen the woman before.
"Same as the person that assaulted my brother at the restaurant. We had never seen these people. So, they're the kind of people that have joined the neighbourhood."
The brothers believe it is essential to offer services to people in need but say it can be difficult to find a balance between helping someone out and protecting their businesses.
"It's private business," Marc said. "It's my family's future education. It's my kids. I want to buy a car for my wife. It's my livelihood here."
Luc Doucet, who owns an upscale restaurant on St. George Street called Black Rabbit, said everyone in the neighbourhood is grappling with the growing number of people who are homeless.
"No one has reached out to us as far as city council or Downtown Moncton or anybody for that matter. So we're kind of over here by ourselves."
Doucet said it bothers him that "nothing's really being done," and the situation is only "getting worse."
Pascale Landry, who owns a women's consignment store called Boutique Caprice, said she needs practical advice on what to do when a homeless person comes in.
"I would need tools to know how to deal with people under the influence, or that come in our space and that maybe need help. I would like to know how to give them the help they need or maybe escort them out of our space if it's needed."
All of the small business owners CBC spoke with would like to see more police along St. George Street.
Added security too costly
They question why a new pilot project that saw a bylaw enforcement officer and a police officer patrolling the downtown on foot was limited to Main Street.
Marc Leger points out that the City of Moncton hired security throughout the summer and into the fall, when homeless people from the Albert Street tent city moved in, and so did nearby, big box stores.
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Marc said small enterprises like his can't afford that kind of expense.
"I'm just here on the corner on St. George Street thinking well, you know, do I get a hammer or something for the back bar or what?"
Ben Leger expects the problem will ease during the winter but said a real solution is needed to help get people who are homeless back on their feet.
"We keep putting Band-Aids on big, big injuries. Let's put it that way."