New Brunswick

New Brunswick's homeless rate is dropping, report says

The Community Action Group on Homelessness says its new report shows the number of homeless people in New Brunswick appears to be dropping and it believes the eradication of homelessness in the province is within reach.

Eradication possible, group believes

The number of homeless people in New Brunswick appears to be dropping, according the latest report by the Community Action Group on Homelessness.

The group, which released its fourth annual report on Monday, believes the eradication of homelessness in the province is possible.

"I think it's within our reach," said Tim Ross, co-ordinator of the Fredericton-based group.

"We have seen success over the last few years. We have forward momentum, so now's not the time to let off the gas," he said.

The number of people staying at the Fredericton Homeless Shelters Inc., for example, has dropped in each of the past four years to 298 in 2011, from 432 in 2008, the report shows.

Across the province, there were 1,296 people who stayed at an emergency homeless shelter in 2011, down from 1,410 in 2010. There were 675 children and youth in care in 2011, compared to 751 in 2010.

The group's report card looked at homelessness in four communities: Fredericton, Moncton, Saint John and Bathurst.

Increase in affordable housing

Ross said there are several possible explanations for the drop in homelessness, including an increase in the availability of affordable housing.

Private and non-profit developers created 254 new affordable housing units in New Brunswick last year, including a 96-unit mixed income development in Saint John's south end and 87 new units in Fredericton.

"So we've seen a lot of affordable housing built in New Brunswick and in Fredericton," said Ross.

He also credits stronger partnerships. "We're working a lot more closely together to tackle this issue head-on.

"We've moved from what some people called almost a warehousing system to a system that wants to rapidly rehouse individuals as quickly as possible."

Ross said research shows a housing-first policy is very effective. He said a pilot project in Moncton to help mental health patients find places to live had a 93 per cent success rate in keeping them off the streets.

The At Home/Chez-Soi program is a federally-funded pilot project that began two years ago.

The program uses an unconventional "housing first" approach, placing people in residences before providing service.

The $110-million pilot project will end in the spring of 2013.

Bathurst numbers up

The Community Action Group on Homelessness report did point out an increase in one area of the province.

The report says in Bathurst the emergency homeless shelter has seen a slight increase in people using the facility.

Roughly 60 per cent of the people using the northern shelter are between the ages of 16 and 21.

Ross believes the increase is due, in part, to government staffing cuts, which have created longer wait times to get a social assistance appointment.

It makes good financial sense to help homeless people find a place to live, said Ross, citing a new 12-unit apartment building run by the John Howard Society in Fredericton's north end as an example.

Tenants' run-ins with the justice system dropped from 465 in the year before they moved into the building to just 30 the following year, he said.

The tenants also decreased their hospital use from 136 nights a year to 17 and 9-1-1 calls from 34 to one.

"The cost of managing homelessness through emergency and institutional responses is much higher than 'housing first,'" said Ross.

"We know that if you're staying in a shelter, you're accessing the emergency room in hospitals. If you're couch surfing, you're going to use a lot more emergency systems. So on average, an individual who is chronically homeless will use up to $100,000 a year in emergency and institutional services."

Calls for social assistance reforms

Meanwhile, the Community Action Group on Homelessness and other advocacy groups are calling for social assistance reforms.

They say welfare payments aren't enough to cover basic necessities, usually providing 64 per cent of the income a family needs for food, clothing, shelter, transportation and other essential goods and services.

They are also seeking higher payments for people with disabilities, vision and dental care for children, and a major overhaul of the household income policy.

In addition, they want social workers to provide more help finding jobs.