New Brunswick

Crews tear down Fredericton tent camp following concerns for users' safety

As temperatures hovered around -20 C Friday morning, crews in an excavator, a backhoe and a dump truck cleared up a tent camp on Fredericton's south side, as residents packed up whatever belongings they could.

People who lived in tents gather up belongings as excavator and backhoe move in

Fredericton police were monitoring work being done Friday morning to clear out a tent camp near Government House on Fredericton's south side. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

As promised by the Fredericton Police Force, work began Friday morning to dismantle and clear away a homeless tent camp in the city.

With temperatures hovering around -20 C, an excavator and a backhoe were at work clearing the site, by the river near Government House on the city's south side.

As the two machines dumped tents and other discarded material into the back of a waiting dump truck, other tents remained standing, with people moving in and out of them, packing belongings into boxes, and loading some items into vehicles parked nearby.

Fredericton police officers were at the site assisting with the cleanup, and there appeared to be no signs of hostility between them and others who were there.

People could be seen moving in and out of tents and gathering belongings on Friday morning as crews used an excavator and a backhoe to clear out the site of a homeless tent camp near Government House in Fredericton. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

But Dana Mundell, one of the residents busy gathering his belongings from the camp, said he felt "despair" after learning the site would be cleared. He has lived at the camp for about seven months.

"I don't know what else to say," Mundell said. "They say that there's lots of beds available at shelters, and the fact is there's not."

Plans to remove the tent camp, which formed in spring 2021, were announced by Fredericton Police Chief Roger Brown earlier this week. He said it was being done out of concern for the safety of the people living in them.

On Tuesday night, a fire caused by a propane heater led to the destruction of three tents at the site.

Another fire caused by a propane heater happened at a tent in another camp on the city's north side on Wednesday night. That tent camp will also be removed in the coming days, police said.

In an email statement to CBC News on Friday afternoon, Chief Brown said 10 residents of the site were moved into shelter beds, and two others were able to arrange alternative plans on their own.

Brown said crews completed their cleanup of the site before the end of the day, and he extended thanks to volunteers, outreach staff and government partners for their help.

The destruction of the camps marks an end to an initiative the police started last spring to allow a handful of locations across the city to serve as tent camps.

The sites were monitored by officers and provided services such as porta-potties and garbage collection.

Some would rather live in tent

Mundell said with the site being cleared, he wasn't sure where he was going to go next, adding he has family in the area but doesn't want to be a burden on them.

He also said he'd prefer to not live in a homeless shelter.

Dana Mundell said he didn't know where he'd go next after having to leave behind the tent he lived in for seven months until Friday. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

"I prefer to be left alone and have my tent and continue living. I don't hurt anyone. I'm not a thief. I scavenge, I am a collector of junk, but my, my tent is normally immaculate." 

Warren Maddox, executive director of Fredericton Homeless Shelters Inc., was at the site on Friday morning.

He said across the shelters he operates, and others with the John Howard Society, there is enough space for all the residents of the tent camps to get housed.

He acknowledged some don't want to go to a shelter, but said the tent camps are becoming too dangerous to allow people to live in them during the winter.

"It's time to come in for a few months just so we're not constantly concerned about did you freeze to death last night? Do you have hypothermia? Are you frostbitten? Is your tent going to catch on fire?"