Ending homelessness in Moncton by 2021 'very doable,' says advocate

A member of the Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee says she's confident that homelessness can be eliminated in the city by 2021.

Lisa Ryan, who has just returned from a conference in Toronto on solutions to homelessness, says other communities in Canada and the United States are having success.

She points to Medicine Hat, Alta., which has found different ways to put an end to homelessness for the past two years. One technique they've used is diversion.

"Individuals who are showing up at shelter doors that have never experienced homelessness before are not allowed in the shelter," she said. "They're being diverted into other services so that they don't enter into the cycle of homelessness. That's part of the prevention piece."

"And then with their wraparound supports, they're ensuring that people who are housed are being housed longer. So it's working they've been able to say for the past two years that homelessness is non-existent in their community for those experiencing chronic homelessness and that Moncton's goal right now is to be to say that by 2021."

This week, Moncton began enforcing new rules and regulations for a homeless camp on Albert Street, where dozens of tents have been set up since the emergency out-of-the-cold shelter closed April 1.

Those living in the so-called tent city have to register with the YMCA of Greater Moncton's ReConnect Street Intervention Program and must keep the site clean.

Fires, combustible materials, vehicles, generators, disruptive behaviour and the setting up of structures are no longer be allowed and everyone has to leave by Aug. 1, when the new House of Nazareth shelter opens at 72 Albert St.

We can do better than having people living in tents.​ - Trevor Goodwin, YMCA of Greater Moncton

Vincent Merola, the city's community development officer for social inclusion, said last week it's because "these folks deserve better than tents."

"The first step to get people on the housing continuum is when they have shelter over their head. It's almost impossible to be able to get them moving along to being in a safe home when they're in a tent. We need to get these people sheltered. We need to be able to provide them services and the first step to do that is going to be in a shelter."

Trevor Goodwin, the new director of the Y's ReConnect Street Intervention Program and its other outreach services, agreed.

Vanessa Blanch/CBC

"We can do better than having people living in tents and regardless of if that's their choice at that moment, they deserve better and I think deep down they know that they deserve better and they want better," he said.

"Homelessness isn't just … I have no home. There's so many other layers and things that are going on there and it's finding them a safe home, a safe roof over their head so that we and others in the community can then help heal those issues."

Ryan says some jurisdictions like Medicne Hat have had success by collecting real-time data on who is experiencing homelessness and what their needs are.

The housing and support needs of someone who has become homeless for the first time are very different than someone who has been chronically homeless and has severe mental health disorders or addictions, for example, she said.

Moncton started compiling a real-time list of people experiencing homelessness in 2016 and has now has 500 names, said Ryan.

Members of the community were also asked to complete a survey last week about what types of individuals they think should be prioritized.

"I think that when people start understanding the complexities of homelessness they start wanting to be a part of the solution," said Ryan.

She and a team of people are now using those results to decide who should get priority when new housing units open up.

Ending homelessness is to everyone's advantage, according to Ryan. She says homelessness costs taxpayers more through increased health care and policing costs, and it can cost upwards of $50,000 a year to put someone in a shelter bed.

By comparison, an affordable housing bed costs less than $10,000 a year, she said. The subsidy also frees up about 30 per cent of that person's income, enabling them to spend more in the community, contributing to the economy, she added.

"I think it's very doable."