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Moncton business owners want homelessness supports removed from downtown core within 30 days

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The message at the forefront of Tuesday morning’s meeting was united among the group of five panelists at the front of the room: supports for unhoused people aren’t welcome in Moncton's business district

With around 20 people in attendance, business owners and residents spoke out about their concerns surrounding Moncton’s downtown and put forward an urgent call for action.

“For the past few years, the business community has been actively involved and lobbying city council to start taking action, and the request today was to remove the shelter services out of the BIA,” said Thierry Le Bouthillier, a downtown business owner.

Le Bouthillier says the Business Improvement Area, or BIA, is the heartbeat to every city and claims the current situation in the city’s downtown is now affecting their livelihood.

“This is where we do business, this is where our tourism comes in, our hotel, our hospitality, our restaurants and to inject shelter services directly into where we do business, as a downtown… does not work,” he said.

Not only did members from the business community come forward with a specific ask for the City of Moncton, but also with a specific timeline.

“The city opened up a shelter in 14 days back in December. One of our requests is for the city to relocate that shelter to a more appropriate zone in less than 30 days,” he said. “If the city can open a shelter in 14 days, they can relocate one in 30 days.”

Among those in the audience were a few city councillors, including Charles Léger, who pointed out that the province plays a huge role in the services that are available to the homeless population.

“I think that from a councillor perspective, we are waiting on the province to let us know exactly what their long-term plans are related to mental health, addictions, homelessness, and then once we have that, we’ll be in a much better position to be able to indicate what the next steps are,” he said.

Léger added that the province is expected to share their plans by the end of April, when the emergency homeless shelter is set to close.

While the province wasn’t at the meeting on Tuesday, Léger does believe this is a first step in everyone working together to find solutions.

“As a municipality, these are challenges, I admit, and I think what came out of this today is we can work together,” he said. “There have been a number of different initiatives to date, although it’s never enough, but I do believe that these types of conversations are useful.”

Also sitting on the panel Tuesday morning was Moncton resident Allain Robichaud, who tried to bring a different perspective as a person who has been living downtown for 20 years now.

“When I moved downtown, simply, the homeless population was under 50,” he said. “I would say now, the last numbers that we heard, they’re not maybe official, but I think it’s over 700.”

He adds that safety is becoming one of the biggest concerns and people definitely don’t feel as secure as they used to.

“The only thing we want is we want downtown to be a lovely place to live and place to raise your family and people that want to come downtown, but a lot of people are scared. They don’t want to come downtown anymore because of the crime rate,” he said.

Calling on all levels of government, Robichaud says both local officials and higher levels of government have a part to play.

“Obviously the province needs to step up,” he said.

“We know we need more funding for detox because that’s a huge issue right now. There is a drug addiction pandemic problem and we need the province to inject more money into mental health also and just to maybe think about relocation, decentralization, some of these services because we create an environment right now that’s a little bit toxic,” he added.

During the meeting on Tuesday, which took place at a downtown establishment, a woman experiencing homelessness came into the building. Le Bouthillier says it was a clear example of what businesses downtown are dealing with on a daily basis.

“What we’ve been living as downtown entrepreneurs is very visual and it’s hurting our resiliency and it’s starting to hurt our businesses,” he said. “Our businesses, at the end, is the heartbeat of every downtown. If we’re losing that, we have nothing left.”

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