“Government has got to start living within its means, while helping the tens of thousands of New Brunswickers who lack the means to live. The premier has an extra $165 million in revenue to work with, which should enable him to tackle poverty head-on.” – David Coon
Advocates for New Brunswick’s homeless hope a snapshot of the situation in four of the province’s cities will push poverty reduction higher up the province’s priority list.
Plans for the 2018 Point-in-Time Homeless Count, a co-ordinated, survey of homeless people across 60 communities over a 24-hour period to get detailed information about the age, gender, ethnicity, veteran status, needs and circumstances of Canada’s homeless, are in the finishing stages.
Mary MacKinnon, the lead for counts to take place in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton and Bathurst, said they’ll provide another snapshot of the issue, and minimum numbers of those facing homelessness.
The date of this year’s survey is being kept secret to protect the anonymity of participants and to maintain integrity of the count as much as possible. The last count was in 2016, when 77 people were counted.
Moncton spokeswoman Lindsay Horsman said she’s filled a 40-person roster of volunteers, mainly with social development backgrounds, that will fan out over the city on the set day.
Beyond the 14 questions that will be asked across the country, local surveys will focus on women struggling with domestic violence, and try to quantify “hidden homeless,” those whose accommodation is temporary or lacks security of tenure.
Questions like, “Have you ever had to engage in risky behaviour, [like] drug use, sex, crime, or staying in a bad situation to say in your home?” are meant to be gender neutral and identify issues faced more frequently by women, Horsman said.
The surveyors will also detailed notes on responses.
Horsman acknowledged criticism that the survey doesn’t capture homeless figures at the busiest time.
Cal Maskery, executive director of Harvest House on High Street, said for the first time the shelter has remained overcapacity throughout the winter: a typically slower time of year compared with summertime, when more people move to Moncton without a home or employment.
“If we’re full now, once the nice weather hits, we’re going to be way overflowing,” he said.
Horsman would like three surveys each year to measure population changes from location to location but noted the national survey, supported by the federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy, is still in its infancy.
“In the summertime, there’s a lot of movement, so they’ll go from one city to the next. It’s hard to calculate, or you’re calculating double. [This time of year], people hunker down a little bit more.”
A man holding a sign indicating he’s homeless stands on Main Street in Moncton on Thursday.
It’s too early to know when the findings will be released, but Horsman said she hopes it will further push for poverty solutions in New Brunswick.
For example, she said it’s common knowledge “there’s a big housing problem in Moncton” but having data begins to show trends, which will aid in appeals for support.
“I’m really hoping the data from this will open the eyes of policy-makers so they can say we need to put more funding into affordable housing or women’s shelters or that type of thing. It’s a forward motion toward the right direction.”
David Coon, leader of the provincial Green party, blasted the government for not putting in last month’s budget any additional money into poverty issues, or increasing the $537 basic income assistance rate that a single person must live on each month.
“Government has got to start living within its means, while helping the tens of thousands of New Brunswickers who lack the means to live,” he said in a statement. “The premier has an extra $165 million in revenue to work with, which should enable him to tackle poverty head-on.”
Finance Minister Cathy Rogers, who has been active in poverty reduction work in her Moncton South riding, was away last week but in a statement Finance Department spokeswoman Sarah Bustard said reducing poverty is “one of seven key areas identified in the New Brunswick Family Plan.”
She pointed to government’s 2016 HST rebate for low-income New Brunswickers, tuition assistance programs, promises of free child care, the disability support program and services like extended health cards, work services benefits, fuel supplements and emergency special benefits as examples of the government’s poverty reduction efforts.
Survey responses: Moncton area from Feb. 20, 2016
At least 77 people were found living on the street, in emergency shelters or transitional housing
Of 59 people surveyed:
• 70% Male, 29% female, 1% transgender
• 18% identified as aboriginal or having Aboriginal ancestry
• 41% moved to Moncton in last year
• 46% chronically homeless (six months of homelessness in 12-month period)
Top factors in housing loss:
• 45% domestic abuse and family conflict
• 27% unable to pay rent
• 19% addiction