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N.B. minister ‘taken aback’ by calls for prompt action on provincial homeless shelter plan

Click to play video: 'Moncton homelessness exceeding 500 residents, council heard'
Moncton homelessness exceeding 500 residents, council heard
Moncton mayor Dawn Arnold called on the province to do more to help the city's growing homeless population at a city council meeting on Monday. An advocate told council that over 500 Moncton residents are now homeless, as they face the start of winter. Suzanne Lapointe has more.

The homeless population in Moncton, N.B., is constantly growing according to Mike Randall, who is co-chair for the Greater Moncton Homelessness steering committee.

“Even in the last month we’ve seen some accounts of upwards of 60 or 70 brand new first-time homeless people being intercepted on our streets. So this is a significantly growing problem at a time of year when it really does get dangerous with plummeting temperatures and a lack of resources within our community,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.

In October, the province announced an additional $8 million would be invested over three years to increase space at emergency shelters in the province.

Read more: More funding coming for New Brunswick shelters, minister says

Trevor Goodwin, senior director of outreach at the YMCA of Greater Moncton, told city council at a meeting on Monday that there are currently upwards of 500 unhoused individuals in the city.

That prompted Moncton mayor Dawn Arnold to call on the province to release the details of the province’s investment plan, and to act quickly in order to increase shelter capacity as the weather grows colder.

Social Development minister Dorothy Shephard told reporters on Wednesday that details of that plan are still being finalized.

She said she was taken aback by Arnold’s comments.

“To be honest, until this week, I thought that we had good collaboration and good support from the mayor, so we’ll have to go back and see what they feel the gaps are and hopefully we can come to an understanding,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Canada’s AG reveals government unclear if measures to combat homelessness helping'
Canada’s AG reveals government unclear if measures to combat homelessness helping

Shephard said the figure of 500 homeless individuals in Moncton was also a surprise to her.

“That number was actually a surprise to us when it was presented to city council so we’re trying very hard to rationalize that number. I’m not saying it’s wrong but that’s not the number we’ve been working with. We were working with about two 224.”

She said that the province estimates there are roughly 560 homeless individuals province-wide.

Read more: N.B. housing advocate calling on province to do more for homeless population

When asked about the discrepancy between the province’s numbers and Goodwin’s numbers, Randall explained the province pulls their data from a list where people voluntarily identify themselves as homeless.

He said not everyone wants to be on the list due to several factors including societal stigma.

“That immediately limits some people being on that list and it doesn’t mean that person isn’t homeless … it could be up to a month or two before we really have those people who have gone to a shelter, whose names have been recorded, who agreed to be on that list and who have started to work their way through the system. If they haven’t been evaluated, they’re not on that list right away,” he said.

Randall is calling on the city, the province and other stakeholders to focus on finding longer-term solutions.

“We’re focusing on Band Aid solutions … putting together emergency out of the cold shelters at the end of that time, people are still homeless,” he said.

Moncton mayor Dawn Arnold was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

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