The faces of New Brunswick’s homelessness crisis: ‘We’re being treated as lesser’

Click to play video: 'The faces of New Brunswick’s homelessness crisis'
The faces of New Brunswick’s homelessness crisis
WATCH: New Brunswick advocates estimate there are more than 1,100 people experiencing homelessness. In a three-part series, Global News' Nathalie Sturgeon and Karla Renic spoke with those experiencing homelessness, and the advocates working to make change. In Part 2, we dive into the stories of five people with first-hand experience of homelessness and addictions. – Dec 8, 2022

At the River Stone Recovery Centre in Fredericton, N.B., dozens of people — many who are unhoused or have previously experienced homelessness — come to manage their substance use and addictions.

Director Dr. Sara Davidson said the situation in her city is heartbreaking, and stigma is a big part of the problem.

“What I see in homelessness is societies that want to pretend that people aren’t there … They just want the problem to go away. But people don’t go away — people are here — and so they become invisible,” Davidson said.

Click to play video: 'Expert says stigma causing homeless to become invisible'
Expert says stigma causing homeless to become invisible

Global News met individuals at the centre who wanted to share their stories of homelessness and addiction. For many, it’s a story of survival.

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Meet Kayla Tenass

Tenass, from Metepenagiag (Red Bank) First Nation, says homelessness and addiction are like a revolving door.

“You get into a survival mode of just doing what you have to do to get by.”

Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

Tenass moved to Fredericton 15 years ago to attend university, which she did for two years before “life got in the way.”

After she began using drugs, she was incarcerated and the fight to survive began.

“To just keep on existing in the world and not really living, you know, because it’s not a way to live,” she said with tears in her eyes.

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“Nobody wants to have to be hooked on drugs and have to hustle every day just to feed your habit.”

Nearly one year ago, her boyfriend passed away from an overdose. Tenass said she’s still not sure whether his death was intentional.

“Having a criminal record and not having a stable place to live at the time, is very hard to keep going,” Tenass said. “I can understand why people lose hope, and then you just want to take another way out.”

Click to play video: 'Julie Dingwell talks overdose deaths in Saint John'
Julie Dingwell talks overdose deaths in Saint John

But she remains hopeful.

“Even before that, I tried to live a hopeful life. And I always tried to live on the bright side of things and just try to keep on going, you know, push through.”

She wants people to stop overlooking mental health and addictions, and to instead “actually look at addiction as a disease,” she said.

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“People are so quick to judge and to make us feel like we’re less than … If they would actually get to know us, we’re pretty good people, we’re capable of a lot more.”

Meet Stephen

Stephen, who Global News agreed to identify by his first name only, has been struggling with substance use, in addition to physical and emotional challenges.

His story began after several motor vehicle accidents left him with physical pain. He was involved with cocaine and heroin, he said, and got in trouble with law enforcement. It’s also when he began drinking, 25 years ago.

“I legally drugged myself with alcohol,” Stephen said.

Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

His wife passed away eight years ago, after which he lost his house and was left couch-surfing for months. It’s been a difficult journey for him — one of survival, he said.

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Stephen is currently living in a rooming house but said it’s expensive. He gets a death benefit pension of $440 which gets taken off of his welfare cheque, leaving him with $630 each month. Of that, $450 goes to rent.

But he said he feels fortunate to have found River Stone Recovery Centre, which helps him be properly medicated.

“I can function better than I could before. I now reduce all my illegal drug usage to maybe once a month, so it’s fantastic that way,” he said.

Stephen said people who struggle with addictions or housing shouldn’t all be put into one box.

“We have complex lives, complex situations – psychological, mental, family, financial, education,” he said. “We have similarities that we might understand between ourselves, but you won’t find two people identical here.”

Meet Francis Nevers

Francis Nevers said though her addiction and homelessness are in the past, the stigma hasn’t disappeared.

Nevers is currently housed and works at a pharmacy in the same building as the River Stone Recovery Centre, with a goal to open up a second-hand shop one day.

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Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

She was hired shortly after beginning a treatment program at River Stone.

“The program saved my life,” Nevers said, adding she was infected with severe bloodstream bacteria after using drugs while living in the woods.

She said there are few ways to cope with being homeless in Fredericton that don’t involve substances.

“If you have nothing to do or nowhere to go and you’re shunned and kicked out of everywhere you go, then what do you do? You know, you’ve got to do something to keep sanity out.”

Nevers said she’s a hard worker, like many others who are homeless. She spent many of her days dumpster-diving and recycling bottles to make money while living outdoors. She’s intelligent, she said, and has previously owned a business.

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But because of her addiction and lifestyle, Nevers said, she’s still being stigmatized.

“Most people won’t hire us, and I can’t blame them because … just hygiene reasons, the lack of sleep, proper rest,” she said. “We’re being treated as lesser.”

Nevers said she’s at risk of being out on the streets again as she has to leave her apartment where repairs are needed.

Meet Allan Griffin

Allan Griffin lost everything after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 — including his wife.

“I lost everything that I and my other half had at the time. She passed away in 2017, and it’s been a struggle ever since.”

Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

When he finished his cancer treatment, he was living in a tent – it was his home for nearly three years. He was infected with COVID-19 too, which landed him in a hospital for two months.

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He was then partially paralyzed for more than three months due to a bloodborne bacteria infection in his spine, which he says was due to living in a tent and having poor hygiene.

Griffin now spends his nights in a shelter with strict rules, making him feel like he’s not wanted. He likely won’t be there much longer, he said, but options are lacking.

“All the barriers you can throw. It’s like they don’t want me there, I don’t know why. I’m a single male who just wants to have his own little place.”

He said people view those who are unhoused with stigma.

“We’re fathers, we’re sons, we’re mothers, we’re daughters, we’re grandparents,” he said.

Meet Raymond Green

Raymond Green has been living precariously for a number of years. He left his family and the home they provided a decade ago because he didn’t want his addiction to be a burden for them.

Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

Green spent about seven of the past 10 years living outdoors.

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Keeping warm was the hardest part, he said. “Especially in the wintertime, it became quite a task.”

He’s also part of the River Stone Recovery Centre program, where he manages his addiction. “I’m very grateful … It’s been easier on myself and my family.”

Green found his way out of homelessness in the past year, he said happily, adding he also recently got married.

“Me and my wife, we got a small little place, an apartment. Yeah, things changed quite good in the last six months. I’m very grateful,” he said. “I feel like I’m in my element. It’s a new world, you know?”

He wants those in power to see first-hand what it’s like to live on the street.

“Spend a week on the street, see how they’re doing. I guarantee they’ll be asking for help,” he said. “It’s a cruel place … It’s an unforgiving place.”

Click to play video: 'How New Brunswick’s homelessness crisis reached a boiling point'
How New Brunswick’s homelessness crisis reached a boiling point

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

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Crisis Services Canada’s toll-free helpline provides 24-7 support at 1-833-456-4566.

CHIMO hotline (New Brunswick): 1-800-667-5005

Editor’s note: This story is Part 2 of a three-part series on the homelessness crisis in New Brunswick.

Part 1: New Brunswick’s homelessness crisis and how it’s reaching a boiling point

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