Fredericton / News / Police news

Setting the Record Straight - Keeping our homeless safe

A message from Roger Brown, Chief of Police

It has been said many times, and it bears repeating, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to combating homelessness.  We know that while homelessness is the consequence of a variety of complicated contributors, what we see most often as the root causes are mental health challenges, trauma, drug use, and addictions.

While those who find themselves homeless may face similar and complex challenges, how each of them got there and their paths forward are all very different.  Likewise, the ways to best help each person is unique to the individual.   Knowing the facts around each individual situation is paramount in determining the appropriate response.  It is also important for the public to consider that not all information shared on social media, or otherwise, is factual.

Last night, a fire broke out at one of the tent sites, caused by a propane heater inside one of the tents. The wind caused the fire to spread, burning down three tents. While thankfully no one was injured or killed, at least five people lost all their belongings, and were displaced. The good news is there was capacity available to house them at local shelters.

As police officers, it is our duty to ensure the safety and security of everyone. In this case, that means having to step in when someone’s living situation becomes a risk to themselves and others, and that is our intention now.

Winter introduces serious safety issues amongst people who are homeless, those living in tents included.  Living in a cold and wet environment and the use of unsafe heat sources in enclosed spaces are serious risks to individual and public safety. Last night’s fire could have been far more tragic, given that propane heaters used in enclosed spaces are not only fire hazards, but are also an explosion risk and can lead to asphyxiation from the off-gasses. 

As such, over the coming days, we will be closing the tent sites to minimize the risks to the individuals living there.  Together with our partners, we will continue to encourage those living rough to access available shelter space. 

In recent weeks, there have been some local news articles about the sudden passing of a young woman who was living in a tent at the time of her death. Police respond to all sudden deaths, to ensure that there is no criminality. In this case, the death was deemed not to be suspicious, and the file was turned over to the coroner for an investigation into cause of death.

Unfortunately, media stories published about this investigation were not completely factual. Although the coroner is awaiting final test results before confirming cause of death, we feel it is critical to offer further details to correct misinformation that is currently circulating.

While it does not change the outcome of the investigation, we can confirm through the pathologist on this case, that the young woman was not pregnant when she passed. This misinformation quickly became the headline and created a narrative that enflamed an already tragic situation.  In these instances, it is important to have all the facts of the case, rather than speculating on circumstances.  Without the facts, we cannot work toward finding appropriate solutions to homelessness.

City of Fredericton staff, government and community partners have made great efforts to increase the capacity at shelters and try to connect people with available housing and existing shelter spaces.

We at Fredericton Police have worked through our Integrated Community Services Unit of social workers and uniformed officers to monitor and liaise with tent sites and connect individuals with the appropriate resources. While we have certainly made gains through our collective efforts, there are still those who refuse to accept the offers of assistance or support.  

We have also seen great generosity and support from the community. And while it is grounded with good intentions, we would encourage you not to donate tents, propane or heating devices to individuals to protect their safety. Instead, please reach out to the local shelters who can offer the best advice on how to support these individuals.

The tent micro-sites have created challenges beyond those living on the sites. We appreciate the ongoing dialogue and willingness to work with us to find a solution to such a complex issue.

Homelessness is an issue that municipalities are grappling with across this country. Though there is no one solution, it is imperative that we continue to work together to address the root causes of homelessness and end the many challenges it poses to individuals and our community.