MONCTON – The Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee (GMHSC) is looking to the business community to help lead the committee alongside its current community-based co-chair.
“We always typically had a chair position that’s been run by someone who’s involved in the community,” said Lisa Ryan, GMHSC community development coordinator. “But what we have always struggled with is how do we engage businesses in our community to understand the gravity of the situation and to become partners.”
The GMHSC represents agencies in Greater Moncton that work with the homeless and at-risk population. At its latest strategic planning session, it identified a need for someone from the business community to lead alongside a community co-chair.
“We have the lens of lived experience, we have indigenous representation, we have the community lens, but we’re missing the business side,” Ryan said.
She says the new chair will attend quarterly meetings and likely other meetings that might be held once a month as well. The GMHSC is hoping to have some names put forward for the role by the new fiscal year in March.
A chair from the business community will be able to hear the needs of community agencies and leverage businesses in the region to help. They can also facilitate meetings between community agencies and businesses.
“The end goal is to have the chair be the tie that binds it together to make it a full community initiative,” Ryan said.
Ryan says it’s not just funding that can help move the needle forward for the homelessness issue. Businesses can be an advocate and say certain things that community agencies might not be able to say for fear of losing funding, for instance.
“I think the piece that’s been missing is how do we inform them of what’s really happening so they can take their financial contributions, their advocacy and their relationships within the municipality and the province and really move the movement forward,” she said.
While it’s important to fund and continue the work on emergency response systems like shelters, Ryan said it’s key to work on long-term solutions like supported-housing and affordable housing as well.
“There are two ends of the spectrum that we need to be funding. And oftentimes our community ends up funding the reactionary [part] because it’s in front of us and it’s a dire situation,” she said.
Businesses can direct their donations towards helping non-profits like Salvus Clinic buy affordable housing for their clients. Ryan says agencies are housing people at an “incredibly slow” rate because vacancy rates are low and available units are generally not affordable on social assistance.
Currently, there are around 153 people identified as experiencing homelessness on the committee’s By-Names list, but that doesn’t include women who are not identified due to safety reasons. These are in addition to the many women and children who are “couch surfing” because they don’t have homes.
A GMHSC study from 2018 found family conflict and domestic violence are the major causes of homelessness (37 percent). These significantly impact women and LGBTQ+ youth, she noted.
“The misconception is that people are homelessness usually because of addictions. Addictions did make up 16 percent of individuals’ responses to why they were experiencing homelessness, but I think it’s more accurate to see why or when those addictions started. And generally, it’s during a family conflict situation or childhood trauma, things like that,” she explained.
Currently, more than 31,400 children in New Brunswick are living on the poverty line. They and their families are at risk of being homeless.
Ryan said employers can help stop that from happening by ensuring their employees have proper benefits and living wages. Businesses can also do things like making sure their hiring policies are inclusive.
The Chamber of Commerce of Greater Moncton’s annual survey of members, which is nearing completion, found 42 per cent of 160 respondents listed security and homelessness as their biggest municipal concern.
“I think that’s a real eye opener and validation that the business community is also now engaged. We need to convert that concern and engagement into action. What role can we play?” says chamber CEO John Wishart.
Many businesses downtown are especially concerned with panhandling, vandalism, theft and needles found in public washrooms. There is also concern about the perception of the downtown core, an area that’s been growing.
“We can’t have either current downtown businesses rethink about being there because of the homelessness issue, or people who might be considering investing in the community think, ‘well, maybe, that’s not the right place for me to be,’ ” he said.
Ryan says the new chair doesn’t have to come in the door with extensive knowledge about homelessness.
“What we want is to see that lens of how is this affecting the business community and then now that you’ve heard what the community is doing, where do you feel that you fit in the solution or how do we help you find that direction,” she said.