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Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon. Image: Brad Perry

Saint John considers ‘managed encampment’ site for homeless

By Brad Perry Jan 25, 2024 | 5:54 PM

There are growing efforts to find safe places for those experiencing homelessness in Saint John.

It follows the death of Evan McArthur after a homeless encampment fire in the city earlier in January.

Mayor Donna Reardon said they are working with the province and other partners to set up a managed encampment site.

“The tent encampments aren’t safe. It’s too cold to be there,” Reardon said in an interview this week.

Reardon envisions a site with 20 to 25 tiny homes that are connected to water, sewer and electricity, and have 24/7 access to the services the individuals living there need.

The homes would serve as transitional housing for people until they can find a permanent home, she said.

The mayor said they are currently looking at several potential sites around the city that could be used.

“We’re looking at city property, provincial property, we’ve asked the feds for a list of their properties that have been declared surplus,” she said.

“They need to be on a flat piece of property. They need to be close to amenities, so grocery stores, drug stores, bus stops. There’s no point in having it in the middle of nowhere because that will just not work.”

Reardon said discussions around a managed encampment are not new, but McArthur’s death became a catalyst to get things moving more quickly.

“The public doesn’t like the fact people are outside in the freezing cold in tents. They want the city and the province to help,” she said.

Neighbourhood opposition forced officials to press pause on a similar idea being undertaken in the community of St. Stephen.

Reardon said she would be remiss to think that they would be able to get buy-in from every single person in the community.

“Nobody has called me and said they want this set up next to their house, so that’s always a bit of a concern,” said the mayor.

Once the city finds a possible location, Reardon said they will speak with the neighbours so they understand what the plan is.

She said when they did similar consultations before opening the out-of-the-cold shelter on Somerset Street, the neighbours were amazing.

“It was coming into the late summer and they knew that people would be out in the cold and they were very, very supportive of the shelter going in there. Hopefully, we’ll have that same response from people wherever we can find a space for this.”