Fredericton police ‘closing’ tent cities amid safety concerns

The Fredericton Police Force said it will be closing tent cities in the city following a propane heater fire and ongoing safety concerns. Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

The Fredericton Police Force says, following a fire in one of the tent cities, it will be closing them, to ensure the safety of those experiencing homelessness.

On Tuesday, according to the force’s chief of police Roger Brown, a fire broke out due to a propane heater being used inside one of the tents behind the lieutenant-governor’s house. The fire spread to three other tents, destroying all the belongings for at least five other people.

“We know that while homelessness is the consequence of a variety of complicated contributors, what we see most often as the root causes are mental health challenges, trauma, drug use, and addictions,” but the force must do what it has to to keep residents safe, Brown said in a release Wednesday.

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He spoke directly to the fire on Tuesday.

“Last night’s fire could have been far more tragic, given that propane heaters used in enclosed spaces are not only fire hazards, but are also an explosion risk and can lead to asphyxiation from the off-gasses,” he said.

“As such, over the coming days, we will be closing the tent sites to minimize the risks to the individuals living there.  Together with our partners, we will continue to encourage those living rough to access available shelter space.”

Warren Maddox, the executive director for Fredericton’s homeless shelter, said he is supportive of the police’s efforts to get people inside and out of the cold. He said this is for their safety.

“Having the propane heaters inside tents at that site is just, it’s got ‘problem’ written all over it,” Maddox said in an interview on Thursday.

“It’s either going to be a problem with fire or even worse because they’ve got all these tents that are clad in poly-tarp, which makes them sort of air-tight in many ways, you’ve got something that’s producing a good quantity of carbon monoxide in a closed space — generally that doesn’t end well for humans.”

He said shelters in the city, right now, are being underutilized.

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“There is capacity within the system to get people in, out of the cold,” Maddox said. “The problem is that a lot of people just don’t want to.”

Maddox said often it is a resistance to the rules in place at shelters and out-of-the-cold locations.

“They don’t want to follow rules or they don’t want to do this or that and for the main shelters, there are a few rules. The rules are modelled around, or (what you) are apt to see, when they move into an apartment somewhere.”

He said those living in tents and experiencing homeless have to be introduced to the system and other issues have to be addressed before permanent housing can be established.

He said when the police and municipality do move to take down the tent cities, it won’t be a show of force.

“We have no interest in confrontation, we have no interest in taking anyone out of there kicking and screaming,” he said. “We talked about that at a meeting last night. No, we’re not doing that. That’s not the way we want to go.

“We will try other methods to get people in, out of the cold.”

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How COVID-19 is impacting New Brunswick’s homeless population

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