Moncton will spend thousands to boost homeless shelter capacity

Moncton council voted unanimously Monday to spend up to $20,000 this winter to assist emergency homeless shelters.

The city's two shelters are already full and there are an estimated 120 people sleeping outside in the community.

"We realize that we're in a situation right now and we need to ensure that nobody is without a safe and warm place to stay at night," Mayor Dawn Arnold told reporters after the vote.

The city is working with churches and other groups on a plan to add shelter capacity, potentially opening new temporary locations. But it's not yet clear where it would open, who would operate it or when it would open.

Arnold said "tangible solutions" will come in the next week or so. ​Moncton is awaiting a decision from the province after requesting $400,000 in emergency funding from the provincial government last week. 

The city has been grappling over the past week to find new and faster ways to address homelessness.

While not a new issue in the city, the demolition of a tent camp in the city's west end earlier in the month, prompted greater attention. 

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The demolition prompted a motion by Coun. Paul Pellerin to spend up to $20,000 on the issue. Pellerin said he was "ecstatic" council supported the motion. It calls for staff to return to council with a plan outlining how to spend the money.

The next regular council meeting is Dec. 3.

In the meantime, city staff say they can redirect about $10,000 unspent in the city's social inclusion budget — used for school breakfast programs and affordable housing — to groups looking for help opening a shelter before the larger sum is in place. 

Two potential locations

Catherine Dallaire, the city's general manager of recreation, culture and events, said it could be for things like blankets or cots or small modifications to buildings used as a shelter.

​"It certainly wouldn't be enough to accomplish what we need to do to address the current need, but it would be enough to get started," Dallaire said. 

She told council that two potential sites are being considered. She didn't elaborate and the mayor later declined to identify the locations. 

Dallaire said the shelter would ideally house as many of the 120 people living outside as possible.

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The funding would come on top of the thousands the city provides as grants to various groups like YMCA's ReConnect street outreach service. 

Lisa Ryan, executive director of the organization, said the group estimates 120 people are living "rough" in the city. 

The city's continued demolition of unsafe rooming houses — some broken into by homeless people to use as shelter — and the tent camp have raised concerns about where those people will go as the cold weather sets in.

City seeks provincial help

Ryan has said she's worried someone will die this winter if an out-of-the-cold shelter isn't opened.

The calls for action set off scramble at city hall and in Fredericton. The mayor requested emergency funding last Friday when she met with Ernie Steeves, the province's new finance minister.

The city hopes to use the money to staff an out-of-the-cold shelter, utilities, supplies such as cots and food and janitorial services. The city hopes to reduce staffing costs by using volunteers.

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Despite the province's "dire" financial situation, Steeves said after the meeting that action must be taken. 

"We're going to do whatever we can, we're going to move heaven and earth to help this population," Steeves said.

Staff praised

Several councillors on Monday evening praised the work of city staff to deal with homelessness in the community. 

Coun. Blair Lawrence defended council's record on homelessness, saying everyone at the table cares about the complex issue with no clear answers. 

Lawrence called for an "enduring" plan coordinated with various levels of government and groups that he praised for working hard with little resources.