New Brunswick

No celebrating yet over lower homeless count

The number of homeless people in the province appears to be down by 10 to 12 per cent since the end of 2019, but people who work closely with them say the situation is not actually that rosy.

Numbers expected to climb as COVID restrictions are lifted

In New Brunswick there are about 450 people experiencing homelessness and thousands in need of affordable housing. (Pierre Fournier/CBC News)

The number of homeless people in the province appears to be down by 10 to 12 per cent since the end of 2019, but people who work closely with them say the situation is not actually that rosy.

Community agencies say they know of 437 to 447 people currently in shelters, couch surfing or sleeping rough in the three largest urban centres.

That compares to 500 last December.

The current breakdown is 290 in the Moncton area, 87 in Saint John and 60 to 70 in Fredericton.

At first glance, it would seem the homeless population in Saint John has been almost halved from the December figure of 166.

Names drop off by-name list

Chris Gorman, system planner with the Human Development Council, said that's not really the case. Gorman said 166 was a "high water mark" as agencies added as many names as they could to the relatively new by-name list.

The by-name list makes the process of getting people into homes more efficient and equitable, said Gorman, by matching people to appropriate units and supports.

Names drop off the list, he said, if a person is not seen by one of the participating agencies in 60 days. And lockdown restrictions led to that happening.

Moncton has seen an increase in homelessness and a zero increase in affordable housing. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

Similarly, the pandemic also slowed the flow of new intakes.

"We do anticipate the numbers to go back up shortly," said Gorman, "now that things are normalizing somewhat and evictions are no longer banned."

Gorman pointed to other figures, however, that illustrate progress in the fight against homelessness.

Over the past year 118 homeless people in Saint John moved into permanent housing, he said. And only 11 of them have been evicted.

That's a 90 per cent success rate, which Gorman attributed to "amazing" front-line supports, such as Housing Alternatives.

Despite the pandemic, 32 names have been taken off the homeless list in Saint John since the beginning of March, Gorman said.

Many people found housing on their own, he said, while community agencies helped house 14 people.

"We are confident that we are moving in the right direction," said Gorman, "and hopeful that we will hit our goal of functionally eliminating chronic homelessness in Saint John by 2022."

In Fredericton, moves were put on hold for a couple of months during the pandemic, said Warren Maddox, executive director of Fredericton Homeless Shelters Inc.

But at the end of May and beginning of June, six people who'd been staying in shelters moved into permanent housing, he said. Seven more people are expected to move this week and next.

Using a by-name list has helped match homeless people with tenants, Maddox said.

Well over 90 per cent of the homeless people who have moved into permanent housing in Fredericton since May 2019 have stayed there, he said.

Problem growing in Moncton

The situation is not improving, however, in the Moncton area, according to Trevor Goodwin, the senior director of Outreach Services for the local YMCA.

"The city has seen an increase in homelessness," said Goodwin, "and zero increase in affordable housing."

"We continue to see a decrease in available units and buildings as developers seek to gentrify the city and pushing more working poor and low income renters to the streets in favour of high market rents." 

While other communities across New Brunswick are seeing a decrease in homelessness, Moncton isn't. About 40 people lived in this tent city in Moncton in the summer of 2019. (CBC)

Many community agencies in Moncton have teamed up on a proposal called Rising Tide, which is aimed at creating homes for 125 people over a period of three years by buying and fixing up derelict houses, empty buildings and vacant lots.

"We support it," said Goodwin, "and are patiently awaiting the province to step up to the plate and appropriately and adequately address their mandate of housing."

Awaiting funding

Rising Tide's plan hinges on $3 million in yet unpromised provincial funding. 

"I believe that we can make work happen here," Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard said of the project in the legislature on June 18,  "but we have a due diligence to follow."

The proposal has "extreme potential," said Shephard, but is still being vetted.

A statement from the Department of Social Development said it "continues to work diligently with both non-profit housing providers and private developers on their proposals for new affordable housing units in Moncton."

Prior to approval, those seeking funding for new builds have to secure other financing and demonstrate the projects are viable, said the emailed statement.

Announcements expected

The province's housing plan said funding would be provided to create 10 new affordable housing units this year.

The department said an announcement about those units "was delayed because of COVID-19 but will be forthcoming."

The City of Fredericton said it would be making a funding announcement for the "vulnerable sector" in the coming days, but maintained that homelessness is a provincial government level responsibility.

Some homeless people don't seek shelter services, even when temperatures plummet. (CBC)

"The City's focus has been around the Housing First strategy and supporting the creation of more permanent housing for vulnerable people," said spokerson Wayne Knorr.

Social Development said it's also committed to supporting the Housing First approach, through rent subsidies.

The number of people on the waiting list for affordable housing across the province is about 5,000. 

Adrian Price said he's been on the wait list for better housing for eight years.

"I think what money they waste on other stuff they should be putting into more housing," Price said.

"These people all get big, high incomes. They should be putting money in places it's needed."

Adrian Price is one of about 5,000 people on the waiting list for affordable housing in New Brunswick (Edwin Hunter/CBC)

Price rents a room now, but living there aggravates his breathing problems, he said, because of wood smoke in the winter and heat and humidity in the summer.

He's been meeting with social workers and medical professionals and is hoping to get a spot in a facility with health supports. 

"I'd like to get into a senior place, where there's people around, social gatherings and stuff."

The provincial housing strategy only lays out plans to fund 1,262 new units by 2028.

However, the department said as many as 1,530 affordable units will also be created through landlord repair programs.

Other funds are being allocated to help people with low incomes stay in their homes.

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