Tent camp taken down, trees thinned out near uptown Fredericton shelter

Police Chief Martin Gaudet says occupants of the tent camp were given 12 hours to leave the site and were offered opportunities to get housing. (CBC - image credit)
Police Chief Martin Gaudet says occupants of the tent camp were given 12 hours to leave the site and were offered opportunities to get housing. (CBC - image credit)

Fredericton police say they took down a tent camp in the uptown area because occupants were selling drugs and having a negative influence on residents at the nearby Oak Centre, a shelter for people who are homeless.

The tent camp was located on what was a thickly wooded piece of land next to the Vanier Highway, which provincial workers cleared up in recent weeks.

What was a thickly-wooded area is now sparsely treed. Fredericton Police Chief Martin Gaudet said the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure was responsible for clearing the trees on the site. The department did not respond to a request about how many trees were cut down.

Gaudet said the area was the scene of illegal activity, such as drug deals and drug use, and was attracting people who were there for "nefarious reasons."

WATCH | Occupants of tents forced out

He said officers went in recently and gave occupants 12 hours to leave and offered to connect them with housing opportunities.

Anyone who refused was forced out and their possessions were taken away, Gaudet said.

The Oak Centre is located at the corner of Prospect and Regent streets. It's a place for those living rough to access services "so they can get better," Gaudet said.

"So people go there and they say, 'I need help. I want to go to a place, give me a residence, give me three square meals, give me some services. I need some support' … Well, unfortunately, all the people that show up there don't necessarily have the same intention," he said.

Gaudet said he didn't know exactly how many occupants were forced to leave.

Aidan Cox/CBC
Aidan Cox/CBC

In an email to CBC News, police spokesperson Sonya Gilks also said the camp was a growing public safety concern, with people crossing the highway at all hours, lighting fires and "negatively impacting residents living at the Oak Centre, who are seeking change."

The John Howard Society opened the Oak Centre last fall to give homeless people a secure place to get back on their feet.

An earlier tent camp that went up outside the building was connected to a rise in disturbances reported by uptown businesses, according to Fredericton Mayor Kate Rogers.

Happy to see tents gone

Thomas Dill has been living at the Oak Centre since March, and said he's happy the tent camp was removed.

"They were doing dope over there, making a garbage mess, and nobody had no respect for anything. That's why they all got kicked out," Dill said.

Dill said while the area was still occupied, police, paramedics and fire fighters would be called there on a regular basis for incidents.

Dill said the result was that some businesses in the uptown area now discriminate against people who look homeless by refusing them entry, and neighbours in a nearby apartment building were aware of it all.

Jon Collicott/CBC
Jon Collicott/CBC

"When you got a ton of garbage going everywhere, when you got police showing up everywhere … that apartment building sees it all, and the neighbours, they're all going to think negative of us.

"Of course, you know, most people can't go in that damn Irving, can't go into Walmart, can't go into that store, them stores, anywhere, all because of these people," Dill said.

No one from the John Howard Society responded to a request for comment about the impact the tent camp was having on clients.

No more designated tent sites

In 2021, the Fredericton Police Force experimented with allowing designated tent camps to remain in place, with officers supervising the activities of occupants and the city providing portable toilets and garbage collection.

However, Mayor Kate Rogers has said the trial wouldn't be repeated.

Gaudet confirmed Thursday that police wouldn't be going forward with designated tent camps this fall, and said officers will be focusing instead on connecting people who live outside with opportunities to get housing.

"There's already conversations with outreach programs and community partners to see what the winter looks like, and if the numbers are similar, then anyone who wants to be housed should be able to have a roof over their head," Gaudet said.