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Shipping containers replacing tents at encampment site

By Brad Perry Feb 22, 2024 | 6:54 PM

Homeless advocates in Saint John are working to find safer alternatives for people living in tents throughout the community.

Six shipping containers are being set up at an encampment between Waterloo and Exmouth streets in the south central peninsula.

The final preparations are happening just days after a tent fire at the site on Sunday evening which police suspect was arson.

“We’ve long known the risk [of tents] heat-wise, fire-wise, exposed to other people and violence,” said Melanie Vautour, the executive director of Fresh Start Services.

The organization provides outreach services to those living in encampments and on the streets, building relationships and helping them succeed and move toward housing.

Three years ago, Fresh Start partnered with Kaleidoscope Social Impact, which owns the property, to build housing on the site.

But that work came to a halt when individuals experiencing homelessness started setting up tents there.

“We weren’t comfortable with moving them along again with the nature of the work both agencies do in supporting marginalized and vulnerable individuals in communities, so they stayed,” said Vautour.

In December, Fresh Start was able to hire a dedicated outreach team to work with those individuals while looking at safer alternatives for their living situation.

Vautour said the modified shipping containers are not meant to be permanent housing, but they will provide residents with electricity and heating.

“Sea cans are simply a safer alternative to tents while we continue to work with them to access stable, long-term, supportive housing,” she said.

The executive director said their goal is to have everyone moved into the containers next week.

When that happens, Vautour said they will “transition” the site and remove the tent and debris that is currently there.