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Moncton hopes to reduce shopping cart use by homeless people

A Moncton group is trying to reduce the number of shopping carts used by the city’s homeless.

They are undignified, unsightly and dangerous, said Vincent Merola, the City of Moncton’s Social Inclusion Officer.

“It’s very undignified to push a shopping cart,” said Merola, who is also the acting executive director of the community task force’s action plan on homelessness.

“You have stuff strewn all over the basket, from sleeping bags to photos and souvenirs and clothing and other survival items, like food and tents and whatever else you have.”

He said the carts are an easy way for homeless people to keep all their belongings with them to prevent theft. But if they have to leave them unattended for any reason, they risk having their belongings stolen.

Vincent Merola, Community Developer for Moncton Social Inclusion, would like to create a supervised indoor facility where homeless people can leave their storage carts. (Shane Magee/CBC)

With no other place to store things, their possessions often include important documents such as IDs or personal items that could have high sentimental value.

Merola said Moncton also has a bylaw that prohibits shopping carts in the city outside of parking lots.

“They take up a lot of the sidewalk,” he said. “And when they’re downtown, they can sometimes even deter and discourage residents from visiting our downtown.

Wheeled bins a possibility

Shopping carts were identified as an issue at the Homelessness Task Force Forum held in September. Finding a solution would be “win-win-win for everyone,” Merola said.

He said the task force was considering creating a supervised indoor location where people could leave large wheeled carts. He said similar projects have been done all over North America.

Merola said they’re considering 95-gallon bins, with handles and large wheels, “so they’re easy to move, regardless of weight.”

He said they were considering converting a 40ft shipping container that could have held 39 of the bins, but ultimately the decision was to try and find a slot inside.

Doesn’t get to the root of the problem

Charlie Burrell, the founder of the Humanity Project, said a storage facility is a nice ‘gesture’ to help clean up the city, but it ‘does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of why people have to push shopping carts in the city”.

It may give them a place to put their things, but it doesn’t give them a place to live, nor does it get to the heart of why people are homeless.

Charlie Burrell, the founder of the Humanity Project, said a storage place is a nice “cosmetic” gesture, but it does nothing to understand why people are homeless. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

“People don’t need a storage container to store their stuff in. They need a place to live with a roof over their head where they can store their own stuff with privacy and dignity. .

“You know, giving them a place to store these things – sure, that’s a good idea. It’s a nice gesture. But it does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of homelessness – or what’s causing these problems in our community.”

With fewer shopping carts on the streets, Burrell said “visually it might look like we have less of a problem,” but that doesn’t make the problem go away.

Looking for a location

Merola said the task force is still looking for a location and would like to hear from anyone who might have a site.

He said it is also important that the location is monitored around the clock. He said they are not interested in operating it as a storage unit, where the person would have their own key.

“What we’ve found where this has been implemented in the past is that individuals would end up sleeping in these storage facilities and sometimes there would be, you know, flammable liquids stored there .”

Indoor storage for their carts “has got to be a lot better than pushing a cart,” Merola said. “It just has to be.”

He said the task force is also trying to raise funds for the project, “and we haven’t planned everything yet. But I’m confident that once we find a location and have a plan in place, we can obtain funding.”

Ideally, Merola would like the storage location to be associated with a visitor center.

“We kind of need another visitor center for our downtown. So if we could pair a visitor center with this storage facility, god, great.”