NB community devastated by deaths of two homeless people in tent fire


Community members in Saint John, N.B., say they are devastated after two people died in a tent fire at a homeless encampment on Monday — the second and third homeless people to die from a fire this year in the same area.

Johanne McCullough, director of San Juan Street TeamHe said Tuesday that members of his organization and those living in tents are heartbroken and shocked by the recent deaths of two “lovely” people.

“These people had dreams and hopes and aspirations and they were working to get better and this cut everything short,” said McCullough, whose group provides food and other basic needs to homeless people in the city.

“They had plans, and I mean that literally,” he said. “They were planning on moving out of town tomorrow. I have a bunch of supplies at my house for them because they were traveling to a new town together tomorrow.”

McCullough said the two people who died in the fire were well-known in the homeless community and housing advocates, adding that their deaths have had a far-reaching impact on the Saint John area and beyond. They both leave behind parents and family members who love them, she added.

San Juan Police Sargeant. Matthew Weir said in an interview Tuesday that the cause of the fire is under investigation and that the names of the deceased will not be released until police have notified their families.

The two people were found dead in a tent on Paradise Row. On January 6, a 44-year-old man died after suffering severe burns in a tent fire in the same area next to a highway on-ramp.

Some homeless people, McCullough said, rely on candles, propane cylinders and butane stoves to stay warm inside tents on cold nights.

“There is no safe source of heat from a flame in a tent because everything around you is highly flammable,” he said. “But the other option is to be cold and freeze.”

Tent fires have been reported in cities across Canada this winter, resulting in deaths in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and New Brunswick. Advocates say tent fires will only increase as the number of homeless people increases.

A study of 11 Canadian communities by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness found that chronic homelessness had increased by 40 per cent between February 2020 and October 2023. The group estimates there are between 260,000 and 300,000 people homeless throughout the country.

McCullough said the deaths serve as a reminder that much more needs to be done to help homeless people access appropriate and safe indoor housing options.

“We can continue to give them blankets, sleeping bags, fire supplies and CO2 monitors, we can try to keep them safe, dry and warm. But at the end of the day, they need a solid structure over their heads,” he said. saying.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2024.

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