The most frustrating thing about Fredericton City Council’s vote not to cover the shortfall that would have turned the City Motel into housing for the homeless, is that the rationale the councillors who voted against it used was so damned lame.
Like others who watched the proceedings on live streaming last night, I heard one councilor after another talk in passionate terms about how necessary this project is, but then the reasons why some would vote “no”.
There were two rationale that were brought up repeatedly, and neither one had much validity.
Reason #1 – It’s not up to the city, it’s up to the provincial and federal governments to fund housing for the homeless. One councillor worried that it would open the floodgates, and if the city contributed to this project, there would be no end to other such requests. “It would be a bad precedent” went the refrain.
Councillor Kate Rogers countered that, making the point that that’s simply not true. She made the point that while it may be the province’s jurisdiction, it’s the city’s crisis, and a big part of the reason for it is the pandemic, and responding to a crisis caused by a pandemic is hardly a precedent that will forever hang over the city.
Reason #2 – There was no business plan accompanying the request. Some councilors felt they were being rushed and didn’t have enough information. But this too, was a rather phony pretext for voting no. Technically, perhaps the John Howard Society didn’t jump through all the city’s normal hoops, but as Housing First spokesperson Jason Lejune was quick to tweet out on the heels of the late night vote…
The request, by the way, was for $900 thousand, not the $1.45 million as was the case the day before, because the province had upped its portion. Another councillor objection was that the city couldn’t afford it, and that it would not be a good use of taxpayer money, for which they are ultimately responsible, and it was “a responsibility we take seriously”.
The fact that the people of this city have consistently identified homelessness as among their top three priorities seemed to have left no impression whatsoever on the councilors who voted against. Nor apparently, has the evidence-based research studies that show that it costs $33 thousand dollars MORE a year to allow someone to live homeless than it does to provide him or her shelter. Or maybe they are just bad at math. To be fair, not all those savings are realized in the city’s coffers, but the police part is, and it is substantial. Besides, as the saying goes, there’s only one taxpayer.
Whatever the reason, the City Motel initiative that would have housed 40 homeless people is now dead in the water. I’m sure Lejeune and his Housing First team, along with the John Howard Society will try to regroup and find a way to salvage the project.
They will count, I guess, on funding sources that have a better hand on the pulse of the community than do any of councillors John MacDermid, Henri Mallet, Dan Keenan, Kevin Darrah, Steven Hicks or Stephen Chase. FYI, voting in favour were councillors Kate Rogers, Eric Megarity, Bruce Grandy, Greg Ericson and Mark Peters.
One final point. One councilor lamented the fact that pressure was brought to bear on them by social media that he felt should have targeted other levels of government. He thought it was especially unfair that some of this social media included information on how to contact various councillors. Imagine, city residents with the audacity to contact their councillor to let him know what they think, on a matter they are passionate about. What kind of democracy are we trying to run here anyway?
Duncan Matheson, a former broadcast journalist and communications consultant, writes commentaries on his blog where this article first appeared and volunteers with the Fredericton Community Kitchen.