Moncton — Last week in a news conference, Moncton-area business groups implored the municipality and the province to do something about the rising number of homeless people loitering downtown next to storefronts.
“They’re threatening the economic viability of the downtown,” said Claire Hughes, the owner of a boutique clothing store. “And no one wants to spend money at my shop if they first have to shell out a loonie to whatever bum is asking for it. It’s just not right.”
Because, of course, there was no action taken by any level of government as a result of the conference, the businesses are taking matters into their own hands.
“We can’t seem to shoo the homeless out of the downtown area, so we’re going to pretty them up, at least during peak Christmas shopping season,” said Chamber of Commerce member Terry Peterson, while draping festive tinsel over a man who was passed out under a piece of damp cardboard.
“I bought some nice decorations at Canadian Tire — with my own money, by the way — and I’m planning to spread these bulbs and lights and wreaths out over the most unsightly homeless people who linger around in front of businesses.”
While this is not a long-term solution, the business community believes it’s a way to encourage spending in the downtown that might otherwise have been lost to malls or Amazon.
“Sometimes homeless people will hold out an old Tims cup and ask people for change, and that scares away customers,” said souvenir shop manager Vanessa LeBlanc. “But maybe if it were a nice artisan-crafted mug, and some festive jingle bells were placed in the homeless person’s scraggly beard, these people would actually attract customers instead of deterring them.
“Perhaps we could mount signs in a window that says, ‘We care about the ho-ho-homeless!’ — that would demonstrate that we still empathize with the less fortunate…we just wish they’d, you know…go away for a bit.”
Our reporter strolled the downtown area, which is already looking much nicer. Addicts are adorned with swags and holly; people huddled under threadbare blankets are decked out in artificial snow and paper angels; barefoot beggars are given Christmas stockings to wear until the new year; twinkling lights are strung up on the strung-out.
Businesses are now in search of ideas for how to make the downtown profitable in the new year.
“January is a long, cold time for the business community,” said LeBlanc. “We don’t know how we’ll survive if we don’t get help.”