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Increased demand and safety concerning for Peter McKee Community Centre

By Tara Clow Nov 22, 2023 | 2:28 PM

Rising costs and increased concerns from the Peter McKee Community Centre.

The Centre which offers a food bank, teaching kitchen community garden, oral health services, a thrift store and many other types of services is seeing more and more demand from those in need.

“Usage is rising to the highest levels seen in Canadian history. In October, we served 5069 individuals at least once. That’s a 96 percent increase over the same figure in October of 2022 and a 137 percent increase over that same figure in October of 2021. The number of new clients signed up last month was 357, which is well over three times the number of new clients that were signed up in October of 2021,” says Board member Tom Bateman. “We’re also seeing more children as clients. Roughly a quarter of the clientele from October of this year were younger than 18 years of age. Since 2021, the centre has seen a nearly three-fold increase in the number of fully employed Monctonians who are now accessing our services.”

Lineups of people in need form each day at the Centre, as clients await their turn to choose food to bring home to their families.

“A year ago, if someone was in need of food support, they walked into the Peter McKee, they met with our intake staff or volunteers and filled out just the basic demographics, and we were able to give them food and an appointment that day or the next day. They at least went home with some emergency food until they got that food bank appointment,” General Manager Christine Taylor told Moncton City Council this week. “I have 93 applications that haven’t even been processed yet, and they came in three weeks ago. We gave over 100 emergency bags away three weeks ago, which depleted our food supply. We had to stop doing that because if we don’t, we’re going to run out of food.”

The Centre itself is also experiencing other challenges, aside from an increased demand. Food costs are rising, and there’s a rising concern for their volunteers as well.

“Significant concerns for the safety of volunteers and clients required the hiring of full-time security costing about $56,000 a year. We’re now preparing for the 24/7 Out of the Cold Shelter which will soon neighbour our building. The time and money spent on meeting the centre’s security needs or resources that would otherwise go to address these increasing needs of our clients,” Bateman adds.

Taylor says they’re seeing seniors coming in who have never used a food bank before, apologizing for being there.  With rent costs rising, and living on fixed incomes, they’ve had to find other means, because their money is now going to pay for rent instead of groceries.

“But that’s part of the safety issue too. We have the security guards outside walking around to make sure that seniors feel safe, or if they need help crossing the street with their groceries,” she says.

When our radio station spoke to Taylor during a tour of the community garden at the centre in July, she told us it was a difficult winter with the shelter located next door, “Death, overdoses and a lot of violence around this area and a lot of fear. Some clients were afraid to come and do their food orders.”

She stressed to City Councillors this week that the additional security is not just because of garbage or tents, it’s because she doesn’t have any other choice.

“Our Store Manager at the Thrift Store was assaulted. One of my staff members quit out of the blue because he was tired of being spit at when he went out in public. He lived around the area and he was often verbally assaulted and threatened because he had to manage some of these security issues when he saw people in the community. I had one of our oldest volunteers asking, ‘Why am I coming here to do this, just to be told off.”

The John Howard Society will run a Bridge to Home Hub in the former Moncton Lions Centre next door, with a focus on acting as an Out of Cold Shelter when needed, but also with an effort to get these individuals further assistance and housing.

Councillor Bryan Butler suggested a meeting between the John Howard Society and the Peter McKee Centre ASAP in an effort to work together to alleviate concerns.

He also requested an arrangement between Community Policing, By-Law Enforcement and the Centre.