People who live near a Fredericton drop-in centre for the homeless say it has brought theft, drug use and inappropriate public behaviour to their residential neighbourhood.
And they're asking the city to stop a proposed expansion of the Phoenix Learning Centre, which would include adding an extra storey to the Woodstock Road location, with nine assisted living units for people who are homeless.
Phoenix has already seen increased use as a drop-in centre over the past year, as many downtown locations had to close or restrict entry during the pandemic, leaving many without shelter from the cold during the day .
Mark Hazlett lives in the area and said the centre's proposed role is not compatible with the residential neighbourhood.
"Within 50 metres of the centre there are eight school-age children," said Hazlett.
"There have been numerous incidents of theft. We had a centre patron in a children's playhouse. There's used drug needles on neighbouring properties, public urination and hard drug use in open view of the surrounding homes, and this is really what is really unacceptable."
Police calls up
A planning advisory committee report said the Fredericton police have already seen an increase in calls to the area.
"The frequency of calls sharply increased since the beginning of the month of February, which had 35 calls for service," said the report.
"At the time of preparation of this report there have [been] almost daily service calls to the site during the month of March."
Sara Davidson, who helped start the centre, said the current operation is a reaction to the pandemic crisis and does not represent how the centre would operate in the future.
She said the goal of the proposed expansion is to get more homeless people into housing, which the centre would help provide, which in turn would reduce the incidence of issues such as public drug use
"The long-term goal is to have a lot more people being housed, and then they're not going to have to be outside," said Davidson.
"It would be a failure of our entire centre if we kept people in this crisis mode all this time."
As of March 12, the city had received 93 public comments about the proposal. The planning advisory committee will vote Wednesday on the rezoning request.
Donald Fraser, who lives near the centre and had his property damaged last year, said things have gotten worse since that incident.
"I've had strangers harass me through my dining-room window, adjacent to the shelter, as I try to eat breakfast," said Fraser.
"I've struggled with people banging on my front door and walking across my property to get to the shelter. People are leaving garbage near my property. They're using the outside property as a public washroom, as well as a space for explicit sexual activity. Last week, I went to cook lunch on my barbecue and discovered my propane tank was stolen."
Allan Menzies, a business owner in the neighbourhood, said the centre has had a negative impact on his business.
"In the Phoenix Learning Centre's short history, we personally have experienced extra foot traffic through our private property, shopping carts left in our parking lot and used syringes found in the area of our office front door,"
There were also comments supportive of the project.
"The current COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the challenges of homelessness, and it is an issue that we can no longer ignore as a community," said Eve Baird.
"The mental health crisis is also at the forefront, and I believe that this initiative could support folks who really need it."
Changes not enough
Hazlett said the centre has listened to residents' concerns and has made some changes, such as adding porta-potties to reduce public urination, but these fixes haven't been enough.
"These improvements have not stopped the hard drug use. All it's done is move it to the fringes of the property or inside the porta-potties. As recently as last Friday, a neighbour documented some open hard-drug use two weeks after the security guard was hired."
Hazlett suggested the Victoria Health Centre be used to house the new centre instead, with the assisted living units.
Davidson said she would support using the Victoria Health Centre but said there would have to be government buy-in, and the Phoenix Learning Centre project would still move forward.
The centre is operating on an emergency zoning permit because of the pandemic, but if the rezoning application is rejected, there would be little choice for the centre, she said.
"I guess people have to go back outside," said Davidson.