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Saint John accelerates plan to create monitored encampment sites after death of Evan McArthur

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As homeless encampments grow across the region, Saint John, N.B., Mayor Donna Reardon says the city is planning to create managed encampment locations.

“Everybody is looking at this idea,” says Mayor Reardon. “Everyone is working towards some sort of safe secure transitional housing as we try to move people into permeant housing.”

The idea came after a lengthy discussion with Housing Minister Jill Green following an announcement on Jan. 11 to open a hub for homeless resources by the end of the month rather then in April as originally planned.

The death of 44-year old Evan McArthur, who died in an encampment fire on Jan. 6, is one of the reasons for the accelerated opening. The city wants to ensure similar situations do not occur.

The number of sites is unspecified as of this writing, but each one would have 20-25 small shelters with access to water and electricity through local partnerships.

The city is still looking into locations for the unspecified number of sites.

When asked if she fears Saint John would encounter a situation to that in St. Stephen — where a spot was picked for a similar project until residents voiced their concerns, leading to things being put on hold — Mayor Reardon said she’s doesn’t feel that sense in her community.

The sites would also have a number of other resources available.

“Service New Brunswick will maybe be there one day a week, so if you need help with that kind of stuff,” the mayor says. “How do you apply for jobs? Like, there will be all those things, healthcare etc., so it will have a variety of supporting services.”

Reardon says the project’s ultimate goal would be to help those living rough get off the streets for good.

“Wrap-around services” would be provided to help those living rough with housing, addiction, and mental health needs.

“It would have 24/7 help on-site so that an individuals plan for success can sort of be hammered out for each individual because you need to get to know the individual and what the barriers are for them,” says Reardon, noting everyone living on the street has a different story as to how they got there.

The past week has seen additional encampment fires in Saint John, including one at the Loyalist Burial grounds on Tuesday.

Much of the details are still be worked out, like what form the shelters would take, and how all these services would be managed. But having the vulnerable population in one spot is a start to get people on the right track.

“This really is the most compassionate way to transition people, to have them in some safe, secured, monitored community where they can be safe and they have knowledgeable people that are also compassionate and are working with them,” the mayor says.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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