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City Aims To Reduce Homeless Population Before Winter

By Brad Perry Sep 7, 2022 | 6:50 AM

The exterior of Saint John City Hall is pictured in this file photo. Image: staff photo

A rising number of people experiencing homelessness has Saint John councillors concerned, particularly with the winter months quickly approaching.

Council unanimously passed a motion Tuesday night asking city staff to work with other levels of government and non-profits to explore options to reduce the homeless population before winter and provide extra help to those who remain homeless.

“The real actions that come out of this motion, I think, will help support the immediate need in this community, and that need is very immediate,” Coun. David Hickey said during Tuesday’s council meeting.

Figures from the Human Development Council show there were 141 people experiencing homelessness as of July, compared to 112 in April.

More than three-in-five people experiencing homeless are considered chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for at least six months over the past year or 18 months over the past three years.

Hickey, who brought forward the motion, said as rents rise and vacancy rates remain low, more and more Saint Johners are being left with few options other than the street.

“It is disappointing that it falls on the lap of this council to have to resort to taking action on this issue,” he said.

“I’d be so bold as to say that I think the province has failed us when it comes to housing. I think they’ve failed us in terms of affordable housing and I think they’ve failed us in terms of shelter housing.”

Many city councillors expressed similar sentiments as they spoke ahead of the vote on Hickey’s motion.

Coun. Gary Sullivan said the issues that often lead to homelessness — poverty and mental health, for example — are not a municipality’s ultimate responsibility.

“We don’t have the deep pockets to hire the social workers, to provide the money that municipalities would then use to build housing and follow through on their action plans,” said Sullivan.

“The folks who have the deep pockets — and ultimately the responsibility for a lot of the problems that these folks are involved with — need to get fully engaged and bring their chequebooks.”

However, Sullivan said it is important for municipalities to do what they can to help deal with the issue.

Coun. Paula Radwan said she has received many messages from residents about tent camps that have been popping up throughout the city.

“We can move tents all around the city, but we’re not looking after the problem when we do that. I want to see people with roofs over their heads and a fridge full of food,” said Radwan.

City Manager John Collin said efforts to help address homelessness in the city have been ongoing for quite some time.

Collin said city staff have an upcoming meeting with the Human Development Council and other non-profits to “map out the next critical steps.”

“There are serious financial issues. We need to throw money at this problem — and when I say we, I’m referring particularly to the provincial government — in order to address it,” said Collin.

“For example, last winter in the height of the cold, we could have had more people in shelters if we would have had the staff. We didn’t have the staff because there was no budget for that staff.”

The city manager said they will not solve the “incredibly complex” issue of homelessness overnight, but they will do what they can before winter arrives.

Coun. Joanna Killen noted the work being done by the Chief’s Community Action Group, which was implemented by the city’s police chief earlier this year.

The group has brought together representatives from several organizations to address issues faced in the city, such as homelessness, substance use, mental health, and youth poverty.

“I think we need to look at what the chief is doing here and really try to see how we can put it on steroids. How can we supercharge the efforts because these are the folks that are frontline of these issues,” said Killen.


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