By: Vy Phan

Steve MacDonald is the founder of Homeless Forward New Brunswick, a Moncton-based project created to help find jobs for New Brunswickers who are unemployed and without shelter. It also seeks to shed light on the ongoing stigmas against homelessness that remain a major issue in the province.

“Myself, I’m a recovering addict. I was born addicted to drugs and alcohol. My mother was a drug addict and later died because of drug overdose. About 12 or 13 years old, I was on the street myself and I [served] my first three years in jail at the age of 15. Most of my life I’ve been in and out, and I’ve lived similar to those guys,” MacDonald said.

Homeless Forward New Brunswick was originally a resource page for people who are getting out of jail to find a place to stay if they don’t have a home or connections to get started. Gradually, he started to expand this idea into something bigger after observing what was happening during his time working at a homeless shelter for about a year. 

MacDonald noticed that there is not much support within the system to help people move forward who share similar experiences to himself.

“There are lots of agencies with good intentions, but sitting down at a table with somebody and talking about how we’re going to fix this doesn’t solve anything. I think there needs to be something that could help directly.”

A big challenge is that temp agencies and corporations require criminal record checks before giving someone a job. However, for ex-convicts and homeless people, these record checks limit their chances of getting admitted and the opportunity to change their lives.

“Even the temp agencies won’t hire us…. I haven’t been in trouble for six or seven years. I can’t apply for a pardon until ten. I’ve already paid my debts to society…. Does that mean until I can get a pardon, if I can ever get one or afford to get one, I’ll have to continue to live being condemned for what [I] did in the past?” 

After working some odd jobs through Kijiji ads, MacDonald decided to make his first post on Facebook knowing that there are many people who are struggling like himself — if not more — who could benefit from this project. The response was overwhelming: it reached 120 thousand views and almost 1500 shares. 

“It blows my mind. That just proves to me that I definitely need to set something up….  I’m trying to get everybody involved,” he said. The group currently has 1600 members. 

Macdonald has reached out to many shelters in Fredericton who are willing to provide help with the program. Other places throughout the province such as Oromocto, Miramichi, and Saint John are also showing interest in the work he is doing, coming from both those who are looking for jobs and those who need individuals to work for them.  

MacDonald is working on building a website for the project so that everyone throughout the province can easily have access to one domain. 

“Eventually I’ll have all the information they need right there [on the website]. People will be able to send others to work. I’ll have the drivers or anyone who can volunteer to drive and so on. It’ll be a simple process,” he explained.

If possible, he would like to see this project expand nationwide into larger cities like Toronto.

“If I could put a couple hundred dollars a week or a month into these people’s pockets by connecting them to those who need these odd jobs done, then I think what I’m doing is exactly what they need.”

For more information, please email homelessforwardnb@gmail.com or check out their Facebook page “Homeless Forward New Brunswick.”