New Brunswick

Collaboration is the only way to solve homelessness in Moncton, councillor says

A Moncton councillor says downtown businesses need more support to address the issues that come with an increased homeless population.

Recent survey revealed some downtown businesses are spending up to $5,000 a month on added security

St. George Street in Moncton has seen an increase in homelessness which has caused some challenges for small businesses. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

A Moncton councillor says downtown businesses need more support to address the issues that come with an increased homeless population.

"We have these conversations all the time but we need to be proactive now … we have to do a better job going to individual businesses and giving them the tools that they need," said Charles Leger, Moncton city councillor for Ward 2.

Jonna Brewer speaks with three community leaders in Moncton about the issue. 29:50

There's been an increase in the number of people who are homeless around Moncton's St. George Street, which has caused challenges for small business owners in the area.

"It's just a regular occurrence ... we're judging people as soon as they walk into the restaurant whether they are a paying customer or they're not," said Ben Leger, who operates a restaurant called Notre Dame de Parkton on St. George Street.

Marc Leger, left, and his brother Ben Leger operate businesses along St. George Street in Moncton. They both have safety concerns about the increasing number of people who are homeless in the neighbourhood. (Maeve McFadden/CBC)

"It comes across kind of rude at some point but we're just trying to make sure that everyone's safe in and around our business."

Anne Poirier-Basque, the executive director of Downtown Moncton Inc., said a survey completed last year revealed that businesses face challenges that include vagrancy, aggressive panhandling and increased drug use, which are creating public safety issues. 

She added that a more recent survey of downtown business owners found that some are spending as much as $5,000 a month on added security.

Anna Poirier-Basque is the executive director of Downtown Moncton Inc. (Submitted by Downtown Moncton Inc. )

"This is affecting their business. I'm sure of that," Poirier-Basque said. 

"They're struggling to keep their business afloat ... and there's some all over the downtown area that are saying, 'Well, is it really worth staying in the downtown?'"

More police presence

Leger said police presence has been increased around Main Street and St. George Street is being considered for an increase — but he said more law enforcement isn't the only answer.

"We've tried many many times to engage the province," Leger said. 

"I think probably what we need to do, is we need to organize a meeting and say, 'Look, this is what we need to do. How can we find solutions collectively?'"

Charles Leger is the Moncton city councillor for Ward 2. (Kate Letterick/CBC)

Poirier-Basque agreed that solving the problem will take a collaborative solution.

"Everyone nationwide is faced with this issue and everyone is trying to find a solution," she said. 

"And from what I've heard, I think that the solution is a collective approach to it. We're going to need the help of not only the city officials, but province and federal governments as well."

Training necessary

Debby Warren, the executive director of Ensemble Moncton, thinks the solution will require on-the-ground training for business owners. 

She said groups like Ensemble Moncton can help provide information on needle safety, needle disposal and overdose training for business owners who might encounter homeless people with drug addictions.

"It's about learning to recognize the situations that might be arising. It's about not having it escalate," Warren said, adding that a police presence isn't always the answer.

Debby Warren is with Ensemble Moncton, a social services organization in the city. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

"It's learning to talk with them and understand how their mind is thinking while they're under the influence."

Warren said the community is in a crisis and to resolve it, the community needs to stop talking and start working. 

"We really do need to go to action. It's exhausting … we all have a role in this because it's our community, our home," she said. 

"They're our people."

With files from Information Morning Moncton

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