Panhandlers, vandals put Moncton Peace Centre to the test
Property damage, people staying inside after closing lead to climb in security costs
Moncton's Community Peace Centre is struggling to address homelessness on its doorstep.
The Church Street building houses non-profit organizations that work with people in need.
But Rev. Jim MacDonald, a Peace Centre board member, said that over the past 18 months the centre has faced soaring security costs related to property damage and people staying in the building after it closes.
He said the cost is about $30,000 annually.
"We try to work very hard to try to be the community partner that we feel we need to be, but also keep the building secure to the point where they feel it's a safe place to be, a good place to be," MacDonald said.
At one point last summer, about 30 people were staying in the building's parking garage, he said.
On Tuesday, about 10 brass drain covers in building bathrooms were missing.
"It's just sad because it gets discouraging," MacDonald said. "People with the best heart and the best energy try to address the problem and those kind of things ruin the atmosphere for a period of time."
He said the centre is seeking volunteers who would help monitor the building.
He said they won't be dissuaded from their goal of helping the community.
He was encouraged by a meeting held Wednesday at the centre organized by the city's public safety advisory committee and Downtown Moncton Centre-ville Inc.
The meeting brought together about 50 people to talk about panhandling and social issues in the city's core.
Codiac Regional RCMP and Moncton's bylaw enforcement department outlined initial results from a weeks-long pilot project that saw officers patrolling together for about two hours Monday to Saturday.
Amanda MacNeil, Moncton's director of bylaw enforcement, said the goal was to talk to people and find out what services they may need.
The pilot involved talking to people panhandling about their personal circumstances and other details, including what led them to panhandle. Police said they are still analyzing the information and may have more to report next month.
While the city's bylaws prohibit panhandling within 10 metres of a building in downtown or in parking lots, she said the goal wasn't to hand out tickets.
"A ticket doesn't solve the issue, we want to get to the root of the problem," MacNeil said. However, she said aggressive panhandling isn't tolerated.
Several people at the meeting said they don't see enough of a police presence in the core, which one woman described as "shocking."
Staff Sgt. Mario Fortin, who was RCMP watch commander for the pilot project shifts, said it comes down to a "resource issue."
"We're absolutely hearing what you're saying," Const. Christy Elliott, a Mountie who was part of the pilot project, said. "We know that worked during this project."
But she said police have a high volume of calls to answer and they need to prioritize their responses.