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‘Preventable tragedy’: Growing concerns about how to help homeless population in N.B.

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick advocate worried about services for homeless during upcoming summer'
New Brunswick advocate worried about services for homeless during upcoming summer
WATCH: At least one advocate is bracing for a rough summer for those experiencing homelessness. Dr. Sara Davidson, who operates the Rover Stone Recovery Centre, says there was an increase in those accessing services this winter. Now she’s worried what that means for people moving into tents as the weather warms up. Nathalie Sturgeon reports. – Apr 4, 2023

When groups decided to open a warming shelter for those experiencing homelessness in Fredericton, it was known it would be a place people would visit frequently.

But Dr. Sara Davidson said of the 130 people who accessed services and shelter from the outdoors, about 50 per cent of them were newly experiencing homelessness.

“But we’re also about to enter a season where the warming centre is going to be closing and we don’t know where everyone is going to go,” she said.

The latest numbers on those experiencing chronic homelessness are from January, she explained, and have hovered around 190.

As the temperature warms up, though, she said not knowing where people might go is concerning to her and the staff who work with this population. There are no sanctioned tent sites in Fredericton. In 2021, police decided to remove two areas that were acting as a place for people to have their tents.

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Two fires caused concerns about public safety — including for those living in tents using space heaters and propane tanks to keep warm.

“It’s quite a preventable tragedy that we may be watching and a lot of the staff are getting more and more concerned because we won’t know where people are,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

She said the desire to control the instability of “being moved along” by police is something many will want to avoid — meaning people will move further from any health care and supports.

Davidson said the homeless population includes seniors, people with heart failure and some with uncontrollable diabetes, adding if people living rough choose to go deep into wooded areas, it will — in some cases — be too late for those who eventually try to reach out for care.

River Stone Recovery Centre is a treatment facility and medical clinic. Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

“It’s just getting, to be honest, more challenging every year — the more that people are being scattered — to be able to keep track, until they are so unwell that it … is dire for them or they are needing to access emergency services,” she said.

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She said the idea of pushing homeless people out of sight won’t fix the circumstances which led the province to have so many people experiencing homelessness.

“They don’t want to see how bad it’s gotten, but the reality is it has gotten that bad,” Davidson said.

Davidson said there is work being done by people within the Department of Social Development on provincial solutions, and added she feels people are realizing this situation requires attention and resources.

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick’s homelessness crisis: Housing shouldn’t be ‘deserved,’ expert says'
New Brunswick’s homelessness crisis: Housing shouldn’t be ‘deserved,’ expert says

“My hope is that we can find ways, as a community, to work together to advocate for places people can be,” she said.

The Human Development Council collects data on the population experiencing chronic homelessness. It shows Moncton has the biggest spike in the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness.

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This data, typically, does not include those who are precariously housed or finding other means of shelter.

There are no sanctioned tents sites in Fredericton and that leads advocates to believe it will be harder to track and help those experiencing homelessness. Global News

Data shows in January 2023, province-wide, the same number of people who left chronic homelessness also entered — tied at 74.

It showed a steady increase of those who were identified as newly experiencing homelessness since October 2022.

Between November 2022 and January 2023, 133 individuals are on the list as newly homeless.

The HDC also shows homelessness has hit the highest level its been in the past 12 months, hitting 642 people. It’s an increase of 178 since April 2022.

The Department of Social Development said in an email statement it is committed to addressing the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness, but it is phasing out extreme weather shelters.

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Jean Bertin, a spokesperson for the department, said it would begin to “redirect clients to available resources at existing shelters in related communities.”

It pointed to the fact there are 274 beds at existing shelters across the province, only a little more than a third of those reported to be homeless and a mere 100 more than the number added to the population of those experiencing homelessness in the past year.

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick emergency shelter operators call for government support'
New Brunswick emergency shelter operators call for government support

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