Homeless people hope to be treated 'like we're human' at new Moncton shelter

Kayla Gallie, 21, is living in a tent in Moncton. She says it's too cold to sleep outside and she spends her days walking from place to place just trying to keep warm.  (Vanessa Blanch/CBC - image credit)
Kayla Gallie, 21, is living in a tent in Moncton. She says it's too cold to sleep outside and she spends her days walking from place to place just trying to keep warm. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC - image credit)

Kayla Gallie, 21, is among hundreds of people in the Moncton area who are homeless and spending their nights trying to stay warm and survive in a tent.

Plans are underway to open a new emergency shelter at the Moncton Lions Community Centre on St. George Street that will include 125 beds. In the meantime, however, the existing shelters are full and many people remain outdoors.

"At this point I don't have any other options, it's sleep outside or sleep outside," Gallie said. "There's no getting in anywhere. And I've tried."

Gallie is banned from both shelters in Moncton. In one case, she was accused of something she says she didn't do, while in the other case she admits she broke the rules when she used drugs inside.

She feels the one-year ban was "harsh" and said there are many people like her who are being banned "for very petty reasons."

Gaillie hopes the new shelter will accept people like her who are struggling with addiction.

"Try to find homeless people that aren't addicts. They're few and far between. Sadly, it's the truth."

Ensemble lobbies for satellite site

Debby Warren, executive director of Ensemble Moncton, said many of the people her organization serves have been banned from the existing shelters for using drugs.

Pierre Fournier/CBC
Pierre Fournier/CBC

She hopes the new space will be better equipped to care for people who are using.

"Addictions is not a lifestyle or a habit, and if it was, it still wouldn't be one that anybody would choose," Warren said.

"We can't be sending people out in the cold because they're under the influence so we need to look at making it a safe space for everybody."

Warren is pushing for a satellite overdose prevention site at the new shelter that would be operated under the guidance of her staff, who operate the only site in the province from Ensemble's downtown location.

"A place that people can use safely supervised and that others around feel safe as well. And we need a place for people to be in the daytime so let's not just be expecting them to roam around the city during the daytime."

A nurse practitioner is at the Ensemble site each week to provide care for frostbite and infections, while a social worker and case manager also keep regular hours to help people connect with services and add their names to housing wait lists.

It's a model that works, and Warren hopes something similar can be implemented at the new shelter.

"This is our chance to really affect change and to make a difference. It's complex but it's not impossible and it's not insurmountable."

Conditions in tents 'pretty brutal'

As temperatures are now plunging well below zero at nights, Gallie described the conditions in her tent as "pretty brutal." After a particularly cold night, she said the howling winds moved her tent while she was in it.

"I'm surprised I didn't freeze to my tent," she said. "It was pretty cold."

Vanessa Blanch/CBC
Vanessa Blanch/CBC

Curled up on a sofa at Ensemble Greater Moncton and still wearing her parka, she said it takes her the best part of the day to get feeling back in her hands.

"We're stuck out to freeze and we ask for help, we beg for help, and a lot of people just turn their noses up to us and think, 'Oh, well, you put yourself in that situation. You asked for that.' I don't want to stay outside and freeze — like it's hard."

Warren says ideally a large shelter would not be necessary, but at this point, the new emergency shelter will be a "huge Band-Aid" that people in the city need.

"Their lives are very chaotic. I mean they woke up in the cold this morning they have to figure out how to survive today. So it needs to be a place where they can find quietness as well."

Mathieu Bernier/Radio-Canada
Mathieu Bernier/Radio-Canada

"If it holds 125, that's 125 less individuals sleeping outdoors … this is not the answer, it's only today's answer. We need long term solutions and it's not one size fits all."

Warren understands the death of 35-year-old Luke Landry created the urgency to open new emergency shelter beds, but she said his situation is not unique, and hundreds across the province are experiencing homelessness.

"This is our every day and these are people that are hurting," she said. "My hope is New Brunswickers will support the government when they say we're going to spend money to help people with addictions."

'Where do I go from here?'

Gaillie said it's a hopeless feeling  for her and many of her friends who need a home. Without shelter, and without access to regular showers, she is suffering with an infection.

Right now, she doesn't see a future where she'll ever be able to have a place of her own.

"I hope that people realize that those on the streets — we're not here by choice. A lot of us, we have a story that placed us here," she said.

"Treat us like we're human because that's what we are. You know we're not all bad and I'm not going to say we're all good either because there's a few bad ones there. But at the end of the day we're all trying to make it … we're all struggling in one way or another.

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard says the province is working with a not-for-profit in Moncton to finalize the details and funding for the new shelter, which will open "as soon as possible."

"We're not even talking about the cost. We're talking about let's get set up, let's get going and let's understand what we need to do in getting our wrap-around services that need to be provided with it and pulling it all together."

Shephard said she doesn't feel there is "full collaboration yet in the Moncton area" because a non-for-profit group hasn't come forward to run it.

"There is a lack of a pivotal point person to take this on," she said.

Warren says all New Brunswickers deserve compassion and attention and she hopes citizens will support whatever government spending is necessary to help those experiencing homelessness this winter, and to help find permanent solutions.

"Our people have hopes and dreams. If you got to know them, you'd know that."