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The Housing Crisis

by Taeyon

Homelessness has become a crisis across North America, and our city of Fredericton is no exception. The numbers of those who are unhoused – whether in tents, shelters, couch surfing or rough on the streets – has climbed steeply in the last few years. Despite amazing work to provide new housing by the 12 Neighbours Project, local churches and John Howard’s Oak Centre, we are still seeing more than a hundred, mostly new homeless people, in our community. Despite the best efforts of many, it seems we just can’t keep pace with the growing numbers. What is going on, you might wonder.
For one thing, crystal meth has been flooding into the province and the effects have been immediately evident on our streets and as seen by social, health and justice services. Add onto this the steep increase in living costs and it becomes clear why homelessness has increased everywhere so sharply.
We see the fallout in our cities as the numbers of those who have succumbed to addiction and/or lost their housing swells the shelters, streets and public and private spaces. Efforts to meet the increasing needs of the growing homeless population fall short. As the numbers grow, residents and businesses become alarmed by the visible poverty that emerges around them. The more disturbing and sometimes frightening incidences are often related to those who have untreated mental illness or substance abuse disorders, which make up a significant proportion of the unhoused population.
The solution must involve addressing mental illness, substance abuse, and poverty. This is a long-term solution that will take time to build. In the meantime, businesses and residents also have rights to security and safety. This can’t be an either/or situation. One thing that many agencies, residents and businesses agree on is that the Victoria Health Centre would be an appropriate location for services. The men’s shelter and community kitchen are already located there, as well as mental health and addiction services and supports. The tide seems to be turning as the City and provincial officials start to change the way they speak about the future of the VHC. Initially slated for development into luxury condos and businesses, this riverside location is now being discussed in terms closer to what Dr. Sara Davidson has long been pushing: an integrated community care (ICC) hub for the homeless. In Dr. Davidson’s vision she imagines a centre of excellence in mental health and addictions integrated with wrap around services provided by non-profit NGOs on site.
Could this be the space for the most complex homeless clients? If the existing healthcare services were expanded, and if other supports and services were integrated, it could be a cost-effective, and more importantly, an effective solution.
In the meantime, at the provincial level, big changes are happening. The NB Housing Corporation has at long last been revived, something I have been calling for, for many years. While its structure and operations are still being determined, I hope that it will make the government a more active player in promoting affordable and non-market housing, as was done in the 1970s.