Esther Mah and Mickey Maguire are not suggesting that the New Brunswick government devote all of its budget surplus to the most vulnerable people in the province, but they both believe that spending a small fraction of the planned $135.5 million could do a huge difference for those experiencing homelessness and those trying to help them.
As the province is flooded with money, charities and churches are pinching every penny to serve the growing number of people in need.
CBC News asked those in need and those trying to help how the government could best spend some of its surplus.
Esther Mah, St. George’s Anglican Church
“I can find all kinds of ways to spend that money,” Mah said of the surplus. “I think our biggest problem here in Moncton is the lack of safe space for [homeless] people to be – especially during the day.”
When Mah was hired eight years ago as an office administrator at St. George’s Anglican Church, there were only a few regulars who stopped for a shower or a bag of food.
“My days were quiet,” Mah said with a laugh. “Quieter.”
For more than a year, St. George’s has opened its basement every morning to the homeless. In the beginning, volunteers and staff served breakfast to about 15 people between 8:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. This grew to 90 people.
Mah would like to see the government spend some of the surplus to fund a safe space that would be open to homeless people every day.
“Everyone deserves to be somewhere,” she said. “Somewhere during the day to stay dry and warm and safe, and they wouldn’t be all over the town center shops or on the steps of the church. It would give everyone a little more peace , calm and security.”
Spending up, donations down for charities
At present, charities and churches are struggling to meet the growing demands of people still sleeping in tents and under tarps.
“We have a shower that we offer, so we have to schedule it,” Mah said. “They have 20 minutes, which is if you’re cold or really dirty or just want somewhere safe and nice, you don’t want to be out in 20 minutes. They want to stay there longer.”
Each day, eight of the 90 people who come for breakfast can register to take a shower.
Mah says the church had to seek help to purchase and install an on-demand water heater. There’s also a washer and dryer that run “essentially 24/7.” She said this has led to higher water and electricity bills.
“Our expenses are up and with the cost of everything, our giving is down. So it’s a huge cycle we’re going through.”
In addition to meeting the cost of showers and laundry, Mah says the food bank used to deliver two carts of food each week, but that has dwindled to half a cart.
These days, she stops at a local wholesaler on her way to work, but paying for basics like milk, bananas, juice, jam and peanut butter has also become a struggle.
She argues that if the government spent a fraction of its $135.5 million surplus on a safe space, with showers, bathrooms and food, it would greatly help those most in need and could even alleviate some of the burden. health care burden. system.
“We wouldn’t have the frostbite issues that clog up our ERs, we wouldn’t have the hypothermia, we wouldn’t have the heat stroke because these people would all have a safe place to be during the day.”
Mah, who calls 911 at least a few times a week, says investing in a permanent, safe space would be worth it in the long run.
“Money up front always saves you money in the back,” Mah said. “There are really deep mental health issues. There’s so much substance abuse. My biggest issue, I guess, is that I’ve been here for eight years and nothing has changed.”
Mah and her colleagues are doing everything they can, but she compares what they can provide to “putting a bandage on a cut wound.”
“It’s not really working. Stitch it up.”
Mickey Maguire, Moncton
Mickey Maguire is one of 90 people who show up for breakfast each day at St. George’s.
He was hoping to get an apartment on October 1 but still lives on the street. Maguire spends her nights riding her bike or trying to stay warm in her sleeping bag with the heat from a propane stove.
“I’m a little nervous about it to be honest,” he said of the cold weather ahead. I don’t know how I’m going to handle another winter.”
Maguire suffered from frostbitten fingers last year and still can’t feel the spikes.
“All I feel is like a deep burn underneath.”
When asked what the government could spend money on to help people now, Maguire agreed that a safe space was needed.
He would like to see a different kind of shelter, where people have privacy and security. Mah points to the “hotel-style” model at Oak Center in Fredericton, where people have a private bedroom and bathroom, or the tiny house model at 12 Neighbors Inc., also in Fredericton.
“Since they decided to build this Avenir Centre, they could have taken the old Colosseum and done renovations there or the old Moncton High School.” said Maguire.
“You could really do something with that for people – even have sections there where they can learn skills and so on, keep busy.”
Right now he needs a tent and a good sleeping bag, he says. He stayed at both Moncton shelters. Conditions were “brutal”, he said, and he would not return.
“I don’t feel safe there. What little I have is certainly not safe anywhere.”
When asked if he would stay in a new shelter out of the cold, if there was one, Maguire replied: “Chances are I’ll choose the street.”
This is the first part of a series. In part two, next Tuesday, a disabled man and a lawyer share their suggestions for spending some of the budget surplus.