Death of woman living in tent sparks call for more support for homeless

·3 min read
A woman died while living in a tent on Fredericton's north side in November. Pictured is a file photo of a tent set up on the city's south side in a previous year. (Jordan Gill/CBC - image credit)
A woman died while living in a tent on Fredericton's north side in November. Pictured is a file photo of a tent set up on the city's south side in a previous year. (Jordan Gill/CBC - image credit)

A woman recently died while living outside in a tent, and more of the city's homeless could meet the same fate if additional non-profit housing isn't built soon, according to a Fredericton physician.

"We really do need to reconcile the fact that someone has died," said Dr. Sara Davidson, medical director of the Riverstone Recovery Centre and a family physician at the Fredericton Downtown Community Health Centre.

"There are people who are living in tents right now who are at risk of death, especially now that we've entered the coldest part of the year," she said.

Davidson said she knew the woman through her role as the medical director of the Riverstone Recovery Centre.

She declined to identify her, citing privacy concerns.

Tent camps have formed in visible parts of the city in recent years, and last summer a handful of camps on both sides of the St. John River were formally sanctioned by the Fredericton Police Force, with the City of Fredericton offering services such as garbage collection and portable washrooms.

Davidson has lauded the approach taken by the city, but said they shouldn't be a long-term solution for the 30 to 50 people who she said are currently living outside.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

"What we need is we need housing. I mean, that's obvious, and lots of people know that," Davidson said.

"But we need the kind of housing in a way that isn't just, you know, 'Here's a key. There you go', where it takes into account that some people have more complex mental health needs or more complex issues around substance use disorder."

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch said he could not comment on specific cases, but expressed his condolences to the woman's family and friends.

"We are always looking at what the department can do to ensure New Brunswick's most vulnerable citizens have access to the supports and services they need," he said, adding that his department continues to help shelters, and enable wrap-around supports for those experiencing homelessness.

The province has kicked in funding for projects fighting homelessness in recent years, including roughly $50,000 for an out of the cold shelter on Brunswick Street in Fredericton in 2019.

On Thursday, it also announced it was contributing $1.4 million in the form of a forgivable loan for a project to build several tiny homes on Fredericton's north side.

Cause of death not yet known

In an email to CBC News, Fredericton Police Force spokesperson Alycia Bartlett said police responded to the sudden death of a woman in a tent in November.

Bartlett said the Coroner's Office has taken over the investigation into her cause of death.

Geoffrey Downey, spokesperson for the Coroner's Office, said the cause of death is not suspicious, but the office is waiting for autopsy and police reports before concluding its investigation.

"Coroner Services is only responsible for the autopsy report, a summary of which will be made public," Downey said.

"The full autopsy report may be released to government agencies involved with the case. The family is also able to get a complete autopsy [report] upon request at the completion of the investigation."

Downey said Coroner Services is waiting for the final police and autopsy reports before deciding whether to hold an inquest.

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