How advocates hope to get Fredericton's homeless off the streets before winter

Outreach workers who help Fredericton's homeless will be hitting the streets next week to get a better idea of how many people are living rough and what their needs are.  

Temperatures in the New Brunswick capital are starting to cool at night, and many people are still sleeping outside, in local parks and in tents near the old Victoria Health Centre.

But no one really knows how many homeless people are out there. 

"On any given night right now, you could have somebody say there's 20 people sleeping outside … we do know the population changes," said Brian Duplessis, president of the board of Fredericton Homeless Shelters.

"Some individuals are here for a while. They're out for a while. They're in somewhere for a while. They're sleeping on a couch somewhere for a while. It's all over the map."

There are also transient people, originally from Fredericton but now in Moncton or Saint John, and vice versa. There are also homeless people in New Brunswick from different parts of the country.

These people can also be faced with challenges such as addiction or mental health issues. 

"A certain portion of the homeless population do move around significantly. Just trying to find any place that they can stay and be safe."


The idea was founded after local nonprofit organizations came together over the summer to discuss how they could prevent a crisis this winter. 

Last November, Duplessis said the homeless crisis came on suddenly, in Fredericton and an emergency out-of-the-cold shelter was quickly put together for people living outside in tents or on the streets. 

"What we'd like to avoid this year is facing that same situation in November, not knowing who's there, and what's their situation going to be, and how can we help them." 

Addiction, mental health issues

But without knowing the number of people living rough, homeless advocates can't plan for winter — and time is running out.

The collection of data will also allow outreach workers to present their findings to government and to know what situations they're dealing with. This could help determine whether more beds are needed in shelters or whether there are certain individuals who can't be housed.

Lauren Bird/CBC

"There has always been those with severe mental health issues, combined with the addictions, who just can't stay," he said. 

"Either the situation can't be managed when they're among a lot of other people, or they can't themselves go into a room with 30 or 40 people … who also have a lot of challenges."

Meanwhile, homeless shelters in Fredericton have been looking at ways to meet the demand this coming winter.

This includes working with government to see if opening more space at a shelter is an option. 

Challenges of gathering information

Although Duplessis feels a significant number of people surveyed will be willing to provide their information, the system won't be perfect because people's situations can quickly change.

"You can have somebody with addiction problems, mental health problems, who is safely housed today and is not tomorrow," he said. 

Philip Drost/CBC

The crystal meth crisis also plays a factor in why outreach workers are dealing with an increase of people living on the streets.

More people are living on the streets because of the shortage of housing, outreach workers and the rise in crystal meth usage in Fredericton over the past four years. 

"It is such a cheap drug and has such an effect on people, that those individuals will sometimes be very difficult to work with."  

CBC News has asked for an interview with New Brunswick's Department of Social Development. 

In an emailed statement, Abigail McCarthy, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Development, said the province is working alongside the Fredericton Homeless Shelters Inc. to determine "what role they could play to help address the situation."

"The department is also continuing to work with our community partners on other alternatives with respect to the provision of shelter space and wrap-around services."