Debris behind Lt.-Gov.'s residence highlights homeless issue

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Debris behind Lt.-Gov.'s residence highlights homeless issue

Concerns over who will clean up a pile of debris behind New Brunswick's Lieutenant Governor's residence are being overshadowed by what the mess actually reveals about the city's homeless.

A few steps away from the  grounds of Fredericton's Government House, the riverbank is littered with tattered remains of tarps and clothing used by people sleeping at the site in warmer months.

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Inside a high-ceilinged sitting room next to a massive painting of Queen Elizabeth, Tim Richardson noted the irony of such a regal setting next to those much more desperate.

"It's not lost on us that this national and provincial historic site is here, just steps away from where people are struggling to get by," said Richardson.

Richardson has been Government House's chief of staff for more than 15 years and checks on the area behind the building often.

While he thinks the mess needs to be cleaned up, Richardson is far more troubled by what the garbage represents.

"I think the bigger issue is the human question," he said. "How have we gotten to a point where it seems to be OK that people can live in those conditions for that length of time?"

For close to a decade, Richardson said he's seen people return to the area. Along the bike path behind Government House, he can often see camp fires between the trees, mostly at night.  

The area has been popular among the city's homeless and Richardson worries for those using it who don't have access to mental health or addiction services.

"If those folks are living in those conditions then they don't have a fixed address and so they can't gain social assistance and other benefits that they may need," he said.

'Symbolic of a larger issue'

Coun. John MacDermid in Fredericton, said property used by these individuals, is owned by the province. He too is less anxious about who will clean the mess and more worried about what it represents.

"I'm concerned about the fact that we have people sleeping in the rough," said MacDermid.

He said people using the area to sleep were likely forced into the situation by having nowhere else to go.

"It's symbolic of a larger issue, that we need to put more resources into our housing strategy for homelessness."

But MacDermid said those using the area are trespassing and shouldn't be sleeping there and the city has commissioned a report on how to discourage further use of the site.

A quick fix

While that may stop people from living behind Government House, MacDermid said it's only a quick fix.

"All that does is move the problem to a different area," he said.

"People are going to be living out of the shelter, people are going to be living on the street, and whether it's down by the river there or at Odell Park," said MacDermid.

The only way to properly address the issue MacDermid said, is to properly address chronic and episodic homelessness.

MacDermid said one of the best ways to do that, is by implementing a housing first strategy.