Closure of homeless drop-in centre partly to blame for emerging tent city, says co-ordinator
'If they don't have anywhere in the daytime to go, you're going to see tents'
The former co-ordinator of a homeless drop-in centre says the collection of tents that are now lined along the banks of the St. John River in Fredericton's downtown are partly linked to the centre's closure.
"There's nowhere for them to go," Scott Earle said.
The shelter, which was located on Woodstock Road, closed on April 30 after receiving backlash from residents living in the Sunshine Gardens area.
About 140 people were visiting the drop-in centre for meals, a shower or a place to rest, since it opened in October.
He said some of the people living in tents along the riverbank were clients at Phoenix Learning Centre.
"If they don't have anywhere in the daytime to go, you're going to see tents," he said.
Last month, Fredericton city council voted unanimously to deny granting a zoning amendment that would allow the centre to create supported housing units in the building, with councillors citing concerns around the proximity to homes and complaints from residents about the people who use the centre through the day.
Earle said there are now as many as 20 tents in different spots along the river bank.
He said there are many reasons people choose to live in tents, including mental illness, addictions or a desire to have a place of their own.
"That's not our goal, to have tent cities everywhere," Earle said. "We want somewhere for them to be safe."
Earle, who has taken time off work since the closure of the Phoenix Learning Centre, will be returning to work at the River Stone Recovery Centre on Tuesday. He plans to take a trip down to get a better grasp of where his former clients are living.
He said there are also outreach teams, including local church groups and nurses with the Fredericton Downtown Community Health Centre, keeping in touch with people living in tents.
Staff who were laid off from the Phoenix Learning Centre are also volunteering to check in on people living in tents.
"This should never have happened," he said. "Phoenix should never have been closed."
'It makes our lives much more difficult'
Executive director of Fredericton Homeless Shelters Warren Maddox said the organization, along with the Department of Social Development and the John Howard Society, are monitoring tents in the area.
"It makes our lives much more difficult," Maddox said in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton last week.
Maddox is meeting with the Fredericton Police Chief Roger Brown this week to discuss the future of the tents, which typically pop up along the river bank downtown every year.
He did not wish to comment about the meeting until he spoke with police.
Alycia Bartlett, a spokesperson for the Fredericton Police Force, said police are aware of the situation and trained officers have been visiting the site.
Maddox said there is space available at local shelters for people living rough, where groups could start working with them to find housing.
But Maddox said people are living in tents over shelters because they don't like following shelter rules or would rather stay outside.
"It's not something I'm particularly thrilled about," Maddox said.
With files from Information Morning Fredericton