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'We were all such good friends, and none of us knew his last name': Encampment residents mourn man who died in tent

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People who live at a small homeless encampment in Dartmouth, N.S., are remembering a fellow resident who died there last week, and there are fears others may not survive the winter.

"Dan was a pretty amazing person. He had a big heart and he was willing to help anybody,” said a woman who lives at the camp, who declined to be identified.

"My husband found him,” she told CTV News Monday.

Halifax Regional Police says they were called to the encampment site around 2:45 a.m. last Tuesday.

“Officers located a man at that location that was deceased. It is not believed that the death is suspicious at this time,” said Cst. John MacLeod via email.

Police haven’t released the man’s name, but say he was 52-years-old.

Neighbours say the victim was a construction worker or roofer who’d lived at the camp for four or five months.

They only knew him as “Dan.”

"We were all such good friends, and none of us knew his last name,” said the woman.

The cause of death hasn’t been released, but there are fears he may simply have been trying to keep warm.

"It's carbon monoxide poisoning, guaranteed,” said a man at the camp identified only as Fred.

“It takes quite a bit to heat these tents."

The woman, though, is less certain.

"I do know I was there when the police showed-up, and his propane was shut off, so I don't think that's what it was,” she said.

“Unless he got up and shut it off because he wasn't feeling well."

Easily accessible in small containers, propane has become a popular choice for the less-fortunate, although the hazards are well documented.

“Everything that you buy (that’s) propane, it always says ’Do not use them indoors,” noted Dennis Larkin, who frequently stops by the site to drop off supplies or assist residents.

Greg Hamilton, another Good Samaritan, was visiting a number of camps Monday and expressed frustration that so many people are living in tents in HRM.

“It’s the reality, but who solves the problems?” said Hamilton.

“Everybody talks about the problem, but there is never a solution.”

The city says it took a proactive approach, dispatching teams ahead of the storm.

“On Sunday, Dec. 3, municipal Ground Search & Rescue visited the designated outdoor sheltering locations – as well as other locations – to check on those experiencing homelessness in advance of the snow forecast,” said HRM public affairs advisor Ryan Nearing.

“Ground Search & Rescue encouraged those at the designated outdoor sheltering locations to seek shelter in one of the province’s emergency shelters,” he said.

The province says it’s ramping-up support as fast as it can.

“While the department is unable to comment on a specific case, we are saddened by this loss and by the impact it has had on the community experiencing and supporting those who are homeless,” said Leanne Strathdee-Dowling, communications advisor for the Department of Community Services via email.

“Outreach workers continue to work tirelessly to help people experiencing homelessness connect to shelters and supports. Acceptance of support is voluntary. We recently announced the opening of the 24/7 shelter on Windmill Road for people 16 plus, and all genders. The shelter currently has 80 beds, expanding to 100 soon,” the statement read.

“We are working as quickly as we can to get additional supports in place and will continue to share details as they become available,” said Strathdee-Dowling.

“In the last two years we have created 449 new supportive housing. We have opened and stabilized 10 shelters, created an emergency weather response for people experiencing homelessness, and implemented diversion support funding to prevent homelessness.”

“We know there is much more to be done, but we’re working innovatively and diligently to help connect Nova Scotians to the supports and services they need,” she added.

With the arrival of winter weather, that help can’t come soon enough for people in encampments.

“We all need help, man. This is going to be hell for everybody,” said Fred.

“Anybody that’s in a tent this winter, we’re not in it for a good time.”

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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