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Homeless advocate in Moncton trying to eliminate stigma

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Even with a thin blanket of snow on the ground, John Renton still went out picking up needles on Tuesday.

Renton considers the people living on the streets of Moncton, N.B., his friends and with the help of a few others, he’s trying to make sure everyone in the community is safe.

“Whether it’s due to substances or mental health issues or whatever the cause may be, it doesn’t matter, I know they’re going through a great deal and they need somebody on their side,” said Renton. “Somebody to just listen to them and help them out as best as possible rather than shoot them down and extend the stigma they experience constantly.”

He calls himself a grass roots homeless advocate and works independently.

When he’s not picking up needles, he’s often handing out food.

On the weekends, Renton will make up to 90 sandwiches a day in his downtown apartment.

One day of the week he and other volunteers deliver pizzas to people in need of something to eat.

While searching for needles behind an abandoned home, he delivered a new pair of knitted gloves and a holiday gift to a homeless man.

He’s empathetic because Renton knows what it’s like to be living rough.

“I was semi and short time homeless in Toronto and in Edmonton. It’s not a pleasant experience and I know what these people are going through,” he said,

He’s very visible in the community, everyone seems to know who he is.

Renton also is the administrator for The Ragged People, a Facebook group dedicated to spreading love, dignity and respect by whatever means its members have available.

People who are living on the streets appreciate and respect what he does.

“John is amazing. He is literally one of a kind,” said Dianne Doucet. “There’s not many around like John. From being homeless myself, he is a great person to have around.”

Jesse Perrotta said Renton isn’t trying to fix homelessness in a day, he’s trying to just make sure that the community is safe and ok.

“If I have a bad day, which is probably more than not these days, John holds the ability to change that just by walking past me,” said Perrotta.

Perrotta recalled a scorching hot summer day when Renton handed out freezies.

“The little things that people take for granted like a freezie when it’s 30 degrees out,” said Perrotta. “John wants us to have that so we remember how much fun it can be to sit down after sweating and sit with people and have a conversation and laugh and just forget you may have some problems.”

Renton believes the drug situation in Moncton is out of control.

He doesn’t leave home without a Naloxone opioid overdose kit and said he’s done around 200 resuscitations in the past year and a half.

“Brought every one of them back. None have died on me. But I’ve come across death experiences from overdose. It’s horrible and nasty. I just don’t want to see my friends going through that,” said Renton.

Despite all the positive work, the Good Samaritan admits it’s taking its toll of late.

I’m not sleeping well. It’s catching up to me. The violence that they’re experiencing because of each other and to each other and the drug use with the overdoses. It’s ridiculous how many times I have to run to an emergency,” he said.

Renton thinks he may slow down after the holidays, but there’s no sign of that yet.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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