January 23 saw the removal of a Fredericton tent city perched along the Wolastoq river. The city was home to a dozen individuals who were forced to leave the property.
The removal of the tent city has been viewed by some as a callous act. Warren Maddox, the Executive Director of Fredericton Homeless Shelters, disagrees with that assessment.
Maddox worked with the Department of Social Development and other government agencies to remove the tent city. He believes that allowing tent cities is a band-aid solution which does not encourage homeless individuals to seek the help that they need.
Even more worrisome, says Maddox, is the exploitation that occurs within these environments.
“You see drug use and exploitation, especially of women. These cities will often have an alpha-male in charge and can turn into a Lord of the Flies situation which cannot be properly managed,” Maddox explained.
The tent cities were not removed hastily and only occurred after months of preparation which involved outreach to residents attempting to convince them to go to local shelters.
“We took incredible flak from the individuals residing in these tent cities,” says Maddox.
After these measures did not work, Maddox’s organization pushed for the removal of the tent city. Certain criteria had to be met before government officials would take action.
“We, along with other shelters, had to sign off stating we had the required space to house the individuals displaced. We were delayed for over four months before the tent city could come down,” Maddox said.
Maddox believes there is a great deal of misunderstanding about Fredericton tent cities and that many people do not understand the problems they pose to residents along with the greater community.
Some others in the Fredericton homelessness ecosystem oppose Maddox’s stance on the situation.
Dr. Sara Davidson of Fredericton’s River Stone Recovery Centre has been vocal about the need for a temporary tent city in Fredericton to provide emergency shelter for the city’s homeless. Davidson does not view this as a permanent solution but one which is the best means of providing immediate relief.
She is joined in this message by Joanne Barlow of the We Care Center in Fredericton. Barlow is actively assisting the city’s homeless by providing food and other necessities like sleeping bags and tents to those sleeping outside.
Maddox insists that the city has enough beds to accommodate the 18-25 people sleeping outdoors in Fredericton on any given night. To Maddox, the issue is not one of capacity but of getting these individuals to come into the local shelters.
“We can only help people who want to help themselves. We do not have any authority to force people inside,” Maddox stated.
Maddox acknowledges that some individuals are unable or unwilling to come into the shelter for various reasons such as non-compliance with shelter rules or major addiction issues. Even still, he does not think allowing tent cities for these individuals is a wise policy choice.
There remains disagreement about the right course of action for individuals who are sleeping rough. For some, tent cities are a worthwhile, temporary solution. For others, tent cities cause more problems than they solve.