MONCTON – It’s been a prominent discussion in the news and in the community at large – the need for shelters and services to house and support those who are most marginalized in our cities.
In Greater Moncton, a report by the Homelessness Steering Committee found 729 individuals accessed shelters in 2017. While this is a 4 per cent decrease from the previous year, those that do use shelters are staying longer and coming back more often.
Frontline workers and city staff working to tackle the issue want the business community to play a bigger role in advancing solutions.
“The business community is just as much a part of the community as the citizens who live here and the one message I would get across is that we can’t just rely on the government to solve these big issues. We need everybody in the community,” said Vincent Merola, City of Moncton’s social inclusion officer, at a panel discussion hosted by Chamber of Commerce of Greater Moncton at the Delta Hotel last Thursday.
Here are five things your business can do to help:
1) Be Part Of The Conversation
Understanding the issue at hand is a good place to start. The chamber’s panel addressed what businesses can do to help. Unfortunately, out of the approximately 40 attendees, many were from non-profits and the city, as well as organizers.
“I refrained from doing it but I should have started the day to say the biggest problem for business and homelessness is you don’t show up to actually listen about homelessness,” said Mike Randall, the president of marketing firm Portfolio and Campaign Chair for the United Way of Greater Moncton and Southeast New Brunswick’s 2018-2019 fundraising campaign who moderated the panel.
But he encouraged more conversations about the issue and hope that would break down stigmas and stereotypes about marginalized populations, such as that many people become homeless because of their own actions and choices.
“I think the business community in Greater Moncton has a responsibility to give back to the community that has allowed each of those businesses to prosper and grow…We need to start telling the stories so they’re aware of the impact homelessness is having – the social cost of homelessness and the impact that it’s having on our growth in our community, on the attraction of new immigrants, new residents and new workers that are so desperately needed to continue to grow our economy,” he said.
“We’re proud of our community, we’re proud of who we are, we’re proud of the things we’ve accomplished and this is just another one of those challenges that we need to come together, have a discussion about, and figure out the right solution forward.”
2) Address Pay Inequity And Check On Your Employees
Among those who need shelters, food banks and affordable housing are the working poor, impoverished seniors, those with addiction and mental health issues, and some students struggling to afford market rent, which is $803 on average for a two-bedroom apartment. That’s out of reach for those on social assistance, who, if single, receive only $537 a month, and expensive for those making minimum wage.
To prevent homelessness and the cycle of poverty from taking root, businesses can make sure employees are paid enough to live on, said Lisa Ryan, community development coordinator for the Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee, at the panel.
“I think we have a role to play as business communities to ensure that we’re being fair with the wages that we’re offering our employees. That we’re offering them the right access to mental health supports and just different resources that they need to survive,” she said.
“We’re seeing a large number of individuals flowing into states of homelessness because they are poor. They are working and they’re staying in shelters because they can’t afford market rent. So that tells me that we’re not paying our employees well enough,” she said. “We have a large number of [working] individuals in Moncton who have to go to food banks to make ends meet for their family. That’s shameful.”
This pay inequity is part of a systemic problem that the business community can help address, Randall said.
“There are great businesses that, based on the way they are and the way they operate, they can’t afford to pay more. I think that’s a bigger problem, that’s a province problem, that’s a country problem and it’s something we need to continue to have a conversation about how do we change that – the fact that people can work full time in our community and still not have enough money to live here, it says something’s wrong with the system and we need to examine that,” Randall said.
Ryan also encourages employers to check on their workers by putting out anonymous surveys, so they’d know if anybody’s struggling to make ends meet.
“It doesn’t matter who it is, it just matters that it’s happening. And if we can identify that it’s happening, that’s the first step to change that,” she said.
3) Donate Time, Money and Expertise
Ryan, Merola and Kathie Rodger, the director of Portage Atlantic, say businesses can donate money to programs and organizations. But they can also offer their expertise to those in need. For instance, accounting firms can offer to do taxes, other businesses can help people become employment-ready by providing work boots and work clothes, offer life-skill courses and provide mentorship, among others.
Rodger, whose organization works with at-risk youth, says positive influence can go a long way.
“These are our future adults of the world and they need to be mentored. They need to be cared for and they need to be given the hand that allows them to move after they come out of treatment program like ours to actually feel valued, have a place to go and be accepted, and not stigmatized and not forgotten,” she said.
Businesses can also offer their expertise to organizations that are working at the front lines or partner with them on various projects.
“The opportunities are endless. It doesn’t always have to be frontline to be part of a solution,” Ryan said.
4) Invest In Community Projects
The Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee is working to turn some of the 27 abandoned houses in the downtown core into single-room occupancy homes and mixed-income units with the help of investors and landlords. Some landlords are already at the table to provide insight.
Currently, a group called Convening Landlords through the Committee’s three-year strategic plan is working to engage potential investors to buy the building or bring them up to code while a non-profit manages the properties. The group is trying to bring people to the table, gauging interest and barriers and make the plan together.
“If we had enough investors and landlords and agencies willing to take them on, we would be able to house a significant number of people with the supports that they need to stay housed,” Ryan said.
5) Create A Sense of Community
A sense of belonging is healing, so businesspeople should attempt to include those who are marginalized rather than exclude them, Ryan said. She encourages people to get to know their stories beginning by doing small things like greeting the panhandlers downtown.
“The more that we push people away from us and say you don’t fit our community, the more isolated that person becomes and the less likely they’re going to integrate into our community. As messy as that can be, we need to bring them into our communities saying we’re ready and willing to invest in you,” she said. “When people feel they are part of a community, they want to invest in that community themselves.”
More information about homelessness in Greater Moncton can be found here.