New Brunswick

Moncton business community proposes task force on homelessness

Moncton has been experimenting with ways to address growing complaints from businesses and residents about homelessness, drugs and crime in the downtown area.

Downtown resident says she frequently deals with drug use, violent crime

Moncton business leaders hope the creation of a task force on homelessness will improve safety in the city's downtown. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Business leaders in New Brunswick's largest city are calling for the creation of a new task force to tackle homelessness and downtown security.

John Wishart, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton, presented the proposal to city council on Monday night. 

"Some businesses report that either their employees feel unsafe leaving at the end of a shift at night, or their customers don't feel safe necessarily visiting," he said. "It just gives the vibe that maybe downtown is not as welcoming as it really should be."

The city has been experimenting with ways to address growing complaints from businesses and residents about homelessness, drugs and crime in the downtown area. Earlier this year, it created a uniformed force of "community officers" to patrol and enforce municipal bylaws.

Krista Conners, the owner of a home and rental property on Waterloo Street, told council she has been calling the RCMP frequently in response to incidents that happen every week.

"We deal with discarded needles, drug transactions, open drug use, prostitution, theft, violent public outbursts and squatters," she said. "As residents and businesses, we have incurred considerable expenses to protect and repair our properties."

Anne Poirier Basque, the executive director of Downtown Moncton Inc., said those problems are what she has been hearing from the business community — and have increased during the pandemic.

"The tangible results, I think, are going to be the homeless being taken care of," she said.

'We can't drag this on'

Wishart said the task force would hear from stakeholders, including homeless people, and examine best practices across Canada.

"It's time to maybe try and mobilize a lot of the efforts that have been made into something more cohesive, more focused," he told Information Morning Moncton.

Several local leaders have already expressed interest in joining the group, including MP Ginette Petitpas-Taylor, Moncton South MLA Greg Turner, Mayor Dawn Arnold and Rising Tide executive director Myriam Mekni.

"We can't drag this on for a year, it needs to be quick, and there needs to be a few short-term wins," Wishart said.

John Wishart, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton, says talk of reducing infrastructure sends a worrying signal to outside businesses. (Shane Magee/CBC)

The task force would also work on addressing root causes of homelessness, such as mental health and addiction.

Medicine Hat, Alta., is one of the models the business community is interested in reviewing. The city launched a housing-first program and declared an end to chronic homelessness in 2015.

Poirier Basque said Moncton's downtown needs to be revitalized as the province reopens and workers return to offices.

"We need to see the future where there's going to be more services and activity and all kinds of things going on in our downtown core."

The five co-leads of the task force will hold their first meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

With files from Information Morning Moncton


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