Moncton to open homeless shelter at downtown community centre

The Moncton Lions Community Centre on St. George Street in Moncton could be used as a shelter this winter for people who are homeless. (Mathieu Bernier/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The Moncton Lions Community Centre on St. George Street in Moncton could be used as a shelter this winter for people who are homeless. (Mathieu Bernier/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The City of Moncton plans to use a downtown community centre as a temporary homeless shelter with more than 100 beds this winter.

On Monday, councillors tentatively approved the plan to use the city-owned Moncton Lions Community Centre on St. George Street.

Many details remain uncertain, including exactly how many beds it will have, who will operate the shelter and when it will open. City staff say the province will fund it.

"Obviously, this is not ideal," Mayor Dawn Arnold said. "Shelters are definitely not the answer, we know that, but unfortunately we are in this crisis situation, which we were in last year at the same time."

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

The decision comes a week after advocates called on the city to open some of its buildings as shelter space, warning that otherwise, people could die.

Within hours, 35-year-old Luke Landry was found dead in a public washroom outside city hall after front-line workers were unable to find him a shelter bed.

Flowers and a note calling on the city to open its buildings were outside the washroom on Monday.

Dorothy Shephard, the minister of social development, said last week that her department would work with the city on opening another shelter and offering a warming space this winter.

Jocelyn Cohoon, the city's director of recreation, said the city is looking to find an operator for the St. George Street shelter this week.

She said the shelter should have a capacity between 100 to 125 beds.

Monday's motion called on the province to provide mental health and addiction support services for residents at the shelter.

"We cannot warehouse people," Arnold said.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

Marc Landry, the city manager, said the municipality is working with the Lions Centre board to temporarily relocate seniors programming to other places in the community.

The centre is located at St. George and Cornhill streets. It's a short distance from the Humanity Project, which provides meals, and Harvest House, one of the city's main shelters.

It's the third time in recent years the city has scrambled to open emergency shelter space as winter set in because other shelters were at capacity and many people were still living outside.

The vote came after city officials said the New Brunswick government's plans for this winter would be insufficient.

Last month, the province announced it would spend $8 million over three years to boost shelter capacity. No details have been formally released, but several officials have described the plans for Moncton already.

Trevor Goodwin of the YMCA's ReConnect street outreach service said last week that the organization would help run a 60-bed shelter at the Moncton Lions Club on Mark Avenue. The space had been used as an isolation centre for homeless people with COVID-19.

The St. George Street shelter would be in addition to those beds, city officials said Monday.

Cohoon said the province's money would allow existing shelters, like Harvest House or House of Nazareth, to boost capacity at times of extreme weather.

"That still doesn't satisfy our 556," Cohoon said, referring to the number of people living outside or couch surfing. "So that's why we're looking at this fourth option."

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

The city will also try to find other buildings to use as shelter space. However, it will consider heated tents with cots if necessary.

"We've been out there for two years seeking a building that we could rent or lease, we [and] the province could use for a shelter," Arnold said.

"And despite many, many meetings and working with our real estate board, nobody has stepped up. So if there is someone out there that has, you know, a building with the proper facilities please step up so that we don't have to move to tents."

Arnold told reporters that the city couldn't use the Avenir Centre arena because of the upcoming world junior men's hockey championships.