The City of Fredericton and a church in Moncton are taking what could be seen as less hospitable approaches to homeless people this year, but officials from both say their ultimate goal is to get people off the streets and into better housing.
Fredericton Mayor Kate Rogers said last year's experiment with small sanctioned tent sites in the city did not pan out. So this year, police will go with outreach workers to any tent sites found on city land and try to link tenters with better accommodations.
Rev. Chris VanBuskirk said the emergency shelter that St. George's Anglican Church has been providing doesn't seem to be contributing to a long-term solution either.
He's giving notice that tenters will not be allowed on church property this year and the church will not be available as an out-of-the-cold shelter next winter.
Sanctioned tent sites did have some benefits, said Rogers, in that basic services such as water and porta-potties could be provided and service agencies knew where to find people.
Drug use a worry
But by the end of last year, she said, the benefits were outweighed by criminal activity taking place there and public safety risks, such as physical abuse, drug use and propane fires.
A spokesperson for the Fredericton Police Force gave the same general assessment but was unable to provide any supporting statistics.
VanBuskirk said St. George's also experienced a lot of criminal activity when the church briefly allowed tenting on church property.
"What we saw was incredible intravenous drug use," he said.
"It's a 24-hour-a-day job trying to police the property."
Anybody with property and office hours in downtown Moncton has the same challenge, he said.
"We've just been telling folks we're not going to do it this year."
Mayor appeals for patience
Rogers expects this year will be a challenging transition period in Fredericton. She's asking the public to have patience.
She urged anyone who's concerned about a tent site to call police and said they are aiming to respond with an outreach worker within 48 hours.
"Police will connect with one of the service organizations," she said, "and they'll go out and have a conversation.
"No, you can't live in a tent on city property, but we'll help figure it out."
Tenters will get options, not orders
Outreach workers are professionals who can assess tenter's needs, including whether they require support for substance use disorder, trauma or mental health issues, she said.
Housing options will be offered, but no one will be forced to go anywhere.
"We won't make anyone do anything," Rogers said.
There are more shelter spaces available now, said Rogers, and different types, including a new tiny home community and units with various levels of support at the Oak Centre.
"There's the supportive spaces. There's a more individual living space … So hopefully that will help with the situation."
Housing with extra support needed
One type of housing that's still needed in the city would be units with a high level of support, for people with acute issues, Rogers said.
The city will work with non-profit groups to try to get something like that going, she said.
The city's role would include things such as passing the necessary bylaws, donating land and waiving development fees.
Rogers advised city residents who want to help the homeless population to support established organizations such as emergency shelters, the John Howard Society and Greener Village.
VanBuskirk said he hopes the provincial government will do more to address the situation.
Church to keep offering other services
"After our experience this winter, you just see that the province was not ready. And if we don't communicate that now, then we're not going to contribute to that readiness for the winter."
"There needs to be a plan," he said.
In his view it should include adequate shelter spaces in addition to a 24-seven drop-in space.
He is also calling for churches to be added as stakeholders in Moncton's homelessness task force, since they are providing many services to the homeless population.
St. George's will continue to provide a number of other services to the homeless population, said VanBuskirk — including showers, washrooms, meals, laundry, phones, wi-fi, and hosting narcotics anonymous meetings and YMCA intake sessions.