About 20 homeless people are camping on the property of St. George's Anglican Church in downtown Moncton this week — with the blessing of the congregation.
With more than 300 people experiencing homelessness in the Moncton area this summer, Rev. Chris VanBuskirk decided to allow the 10 tents and homemade shelters in the yard next to the historic church.
"I think our system is broken I really do," VanBuskirk said as he walked around the property, chatting with his new neighbours.
When a few people set up their tarps last week, VanBuskirk and other members of the church leadership struggled with whether they should ask them to leave.
In the end he realized the group included a woman who was six months pregnant and another woman in a wheelchair.
With two vulnerable people desperate for a safe place to sleep, the church decided to allow them to stay on a temporary basis.
"We entered into the arrangement for a week just to try to weigh this out and try to listen to what was really going on — what the needs really are," he said.
With daily inspections at 9:30 a.m. and 5:45 p.m., VanBuskirk said, for the most part everyone has been respectful and kept the property clean.
"They have signed an agreement for the week that includes garbage and using the washroom and being respectful and for the most part that's been going pretty well."
Homeless feel forgotten in election campaign
Brenda Smith and her partner Faron Hutchings are among those staying on the church property.
"You don't choose to be in this situation," she said.
Smith, who uses a wheelchair, lost her apartment last week. She said she "left her door open" and allowed too many people who were struggling to stay with her.
"It's hard," she said of trying to find an affordable place to live. "We're trying to do our best. We started with tarps. We have no tent, so we we set up some tarps."
Hutchings and Smith hope they will be able to find a new apartment by the end of the week.
They want to see affordable housing become an issue in the election campaign.
"It should always be a priority in the election because there's a lot more than us," Hutchings said.
'Where are we supposed to go?'
Terry Kettley is sleeping on the church grounds in a homemade shelter built from tarps and wood.
He arrived in Moncton about a year ago and said he tried staying in the shelters but didn't feel safe.
Kettley curled up in the church yard last week and hasn't left.
"I fell asleep on the grass one night here, and the lady woke me up so polite that I asked the priest if I could stay and the group formed from there," he said.
"We've done our best to show them respect, keep it clean and help them with anything we can."
Kettley said when you are homeless you are constantly "shuffled along" and he is doing everything he can to find a safe, affordable home.
"We have all these homes boarded up — rooming houses getting shut down and they're going to tear them down and they build these new apartments but the rents are so high nobody can afford them," he explained.
"Where are we supposed to go? It's almost like the city is against us."
VanBuskirk wants to see homelessness and affordable housing become a more important issue in the election campaign.
He believes there needs to a comprehensive approach by government and the community that includes support and training rather than just a monthly cheque.
"One of the things that I thought we really had going for us in New Brunswick was the working together of the parties and that's the kind of thing that's going to be required for anything positive to come out of this."