Homelessness and cheap drugs linked to crime woes in Moncton

·5 min read
Agencies that fight homelessness in Moncton say they can't keep pace with growing numbers. (Serge Martin/Report Card on Homelessness - image credit)
Agencies that fight homelessness in Moncton say they can't keep pace with growing numbers. (Serge Martin/Report Card on Homelessness - image credit)

The Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee is acknowledging things are getting worse in the city despite the best efforts of many to address homelessness, crime and drug use.

"Over the last year and a half," said co-chair Mike Randall, "we've been steadily housing between 10 and 15 people a month. … yet, last night there were over 220 people who slept rough on our streets."

"The number is increasing exponentially," he said, "and we're losing the battle to get ahead of that."

Significant increases in homelessness correspond with rising crime and easier access to illegal substances, said Randall.

"We've become a bit of a destination for cheap drugs," he said.

"You can get off a bus in Moncton, I'm told, and within two minutes have a $5 hit of crystal meth."

It makes the work of the task force, and all of its member organizations "very, very challenging."

Denis Duquette
Denis Duquette

Over 70 per cent of the people on the street in Moncton right now are known to have challenges with mental health and addictions, said Randall.

Fellow committee co-chair Trevor Goodwin, who is also senior director of outreach at the local YMCA, said there's no denying drugs are a big problem.

"As quickly as the RCMP bust one supplier there's a line of 100 more waiting to take their place," he said.

"When meth is $5 and can be made in your backyard with items from a hardware store, how can you combat that type of epidemic?"

The RCMP could not be reached for comment.

However, just last week, the force says its officers arrested a 34-year-old man during a targeted traffic stop in Moncton and seized 4,000 pills believed to be fentanyl, 1.4 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine and 500 grams of cocaine.

RCMP
RCMP

In March, the force said it made another seizure of crystal meth, hydromorphone and fentanyl at a business on Mountain Road. A 40-year-old man, a 32-year-old woman, and a 35-year-old man, all from Moncton, were arrested by police in Miramichi.

Randall and Goodwin's comments come in advance of two community meetings being organized in response to growing public concerns about crime and public safety.

The meetings have been planned for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Holy Family Church on Falkland Street, and May 19 at the Lions Centre on St. George Street.

One of the latest incidents to spark concern was a break-in at Bessborough School, which has students in kindergarten to Grade 8.

An alarm went off around 2 a.m. Sunday, said Principal Nick Mattatall.

Someone entered the school through a window, he said, and took musical instruments, electronics and gym shoes.

Kala Ukulele
Kala Ukulele

Students are left feeling uneasy, said Mattatall.

"School's that safe place where you don't expect something like this to happen," he said.

"But it's unfortunately becoming a little bit of the norm."

Similar concerns were aired last week at a city council meeting. A resident of Moncton's west end made a presentation and delivered a petition with 600 signatures.

Kim Christie-Gallant said her home had been hit by thieves four times and she had witnessed other disturbing activity out her window.

"I looked out at approximately two in the afternoon to see little kids walking home from school, somebody staggering toward the park with a meth pipe in their hand, visibly doing drugs, visibly intoxicated."

Christie-Gallant said she called the RCMP and was referred to community officers. Neither was able to dispatch help.

"So I watched a little boy grab his sister's hand and run home."

Christie called for beefed up law enforcement and social services to deal with crime, before people start taking matters into their own hands.

Goodwin agreed there's a shortage of human resources to deal with the issue.

Tori Weldon/CBC
Tori Weldon/CBC

"All agencies are grossly understaffed," said Goodwin, "and overworked trying to keep their heads above water to help those in need while the tap is still running."

A poll of all of the groups that work on the front lines of homelessness found a shortage of 50 to 60 professionals, said Randall, such as caseworkers, prescribing physicians and psychologists.

But the "number one" thing needed, said Randall, is to develop as many housing units with "wraparound" support services as possible to get people off the streets.

"Our shelter system … isn't as attractive as it should be," he said.

That's leading to more people on the streets and more of the type of activity that generates concern from the public.

He'd also like to see the creation of a local mental health court.

"It's worked in Saint John," he said.

Goodwin is also firmly behind that idea.

If petty crimes were examined through a mental health and addiction lens, he said, it would help people get the services they need.

Police do their best to arrest individuals, said Goodwin, only to have the "archaic and flawed judicial system" release them with a court date a few months down the road, "enabling them to continue to steal/use/rinse/repeat."

Randall said he hopes residents come to the upcoming public meetings with new ideas.

Information from the meetings will be shared with the city, the police and the provincial government, he said.

"We're encouraged that we'll be able to work with the province to put together a model that will address this and address this quickly."

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