Some of Fredericton's homeless move into COVID-19 testing site downtown
There are up to 40 people living rough in Fredericton this summer, up from a typical 20 this past year
Several homeless people were forced to leave a COVID-19 testing site in downtown Fredericton on Thursday afternoon.
The testing site, which sits in front of the Fredericton Downtown Community Health Centre, is a dedicated space for residents experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to be tested by public health officials,
But the area was recently overtaken with sleeping bags, grocery carts, garbage bags and a smaller tent a few feet away.
"These guys are going to take advantage of anything they can find," said Warren Maddox, executive director of Fredericton Homeless Shelters Inc.
Jean Daigle, vice-president of community at Horizon Health Network, said he's aware that some of Fredericton's homeless have been residing in the outdoor testing site overnight and in the early hours of the morning.
"While we recognize these individuals may lack safe, secure options for shelter, they are not authorized to utilize this space as this testing centre remains active and on standby in the event of a surge in COVID-19 activity," Daigle said in an emailed statement to CBC News.
"Therefore, it would be inappropriate to allow the use of this tent as a shelter."
He said the Fredericton Police Force has been performing regular patrols in the area and are monitoring the situation.
Maddox wasn't surprised people were hanging around the tent, as there has been an uptick in people living rough in New Brunswick's capital this summer. He said there were also slashes made in the sides of the tent last week.
"The people that are sort of in that COVID [tent] are really challenging individuals," he said.
"They present a unique problem to us … we're not quite sure how to work with them or what to do."
He said many of the people residing in and around the COVID-19 tent are living rough and are likely dealing with behavioural and addiction issues. And they can access programs and services at the downtown clinic, directed at helping Fredericton's homeless population.
"The reason they're probably there is because it's accessible for them to be there."
Although he said the encampment shouldn't be there, Maddox did say he isn't worried about anyone catching the virus, as testing is done inside people's vehicles.
"It's not like there are a lot of people with COVID standing around in the tent for hours."
Pandemic causing homelessness
Typically, there are up to 75 people living on the streets in Fredericton. With the COVID-19 pandemic and weakening economy, there are about 100 in total now.
Up to 40 of them are living rough, up from about 20 throughout the past year, Maddox said.
"There are no gigs like there used to be, like doing little pickup jobs to make extra money," he said. "That doesn't exist.
At the same time, Maddox said the Fredericton Police Force has been more responsive about removing tent encampments around the city.
He used the example of the tent city, which was set up by the St. John River near the lieutenant-governor's house for several months last year and into January.
"They don't want them to get entrenched somewhere," he said. "Once they get entrenched, it's super hard to get them out."