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‘Generally we’re losing somebody a week’: N.B. advocates concerned over homeless deaths

Click to play video: 'Advocates renewing call for help after rise in overdoses in New Brunswick'
Advocates renewing call for help after rise in overdoses in New Brunswick
Advocates are renewing their call for change following the rise in overdoses in New Brunswick. Support groups in Saint John estimate roughly one homeless person is dying every week in the city. As Zack Power reports, housing, resources and education have created a three-pronged problem. – Nov 30, 2022

Last week, a man living outside a park died. It was later revealed he was a part of Saint John’s growing homeless population.

The deaths of homeless individuals have created concern for groups that are working with those who are unhoused in the city.

“We hate to come into work Mondays because we always have to try to think about who did we lose over the weekend because, generally, we’re losing somebody a week,” said Julie Dingwell, executive director of Avenue B.

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“Winter comes every year — same time. So why are we doing this? Why are we waiting until the end of November to say, ‘Oh, gee, we better do something’?”

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In addition, the Saint John Police Force couldn’t put a number on how many drug overdoses have taken place over the past month, but noted in May that numbers were up 30 per cent.

The problem is amplified by the city’s growing unhoused population, which sits somewhere around 133, according to the Human Development Council. Shelters in the city have become full heading into the winter, with one saying beds will open up in some cases for minutes before they’re filled again.

“We’re full, with all 30 beds full, every night now. As soon as we see somebody leave the shelter, somebody else will come in,” Tony Dickens, the shelter director for Outflow Saint John, told Global News.

He said that even if the housing were available, support would be needed.

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“So even if we had all the people power we need, which we don’t, even if we had all the financial resources that we need, which we don’t, there’s still the fundamental gap of where these people would move into.”

The trio of Fresh Start Services, Outflow Saint John and Avenue B collectively called on all three levels of government to help the city’s unhoused, with Fresh Start Services executive director Melanie Vautour noting it’s a system that needs to be built on education.

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“I think it’s just we’re under-serviced,” Vautour said.

“So the services that are there are doing a lot of work, and we need more acceptance and understanding of substance use. We need to make sure that there are supportive housing models for individuals to get off the street.

“When you have mental health and substance use disorder included, it’s not enough to just get an apartment. You need to have that specialized staff that are coming in to support, and that’s really where we are lacking.”

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