Facing the flames

Community response and initiatives after the Saint John tent fire incidents
Courtney Richard – Argosy Illustrator

Residents of Saint John, New Brunswick, are expressing concern following a tent fire at a homeless encampment on February 18, 2024, adding to a series of similar incidents that have occurred during the winter months.

Officers were dispatched to the encampment located near Waterloo and Exmouth Street at approximately 7:45 p.m. on that Sunday in response to a tent fire. Firefighters arrived and managed to extinguish the fire, with only a section of one tent reported as damaged. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.  

While no injuries were reported in this incident, locals are voicing their concerns about the recurring problem of fires starting as individuals living outdoors attempt to stay warm. There is a pressing issue of homelessness, with approximately 250 individuals sleeping in the streets of Saint John, nearing a total of 1000 across the province. Of the three major cities in New Brunswick, Saint John saw the largest increase in homelessness at 128 people— a 131 percent increase since 2021. In Fredericton, 119 people were counted as homeless. The majority of the province’s homeless population — nearly 400 people ― were counted in Moncton.

Saint John police have provided updated information regarding the vehicle believed to be involved in the suspected arson at the homeless encampment. Surveillance footage, released by authorities two days following the incident, captured a silver car pulling up near one of the tents located on Exmouth Street. In the video, an individual is seen exiting the vehicle and proceeding towards the rear corner of the encampment. Moments later, as a tent ignites, the individual swiftly returns to the car before departing the scene. All four occupants managed to evacuate after their tent caught fire.

Because of the numerous tents that were set on fire throughout this winter season, the Saint John community is accelerating their housing programs. Recognizing the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to address homelessness, the Saint John Out-of-the-Cold Shelter has taken proactive steps to enhance its services and support systems for vulnerable individuals. The recent announcement of the daytime Community Hub space at 344 Somerset Street signifies a significant expansion of resources and support for those in need. Operated by Outflow Ministry Inc., this initiative reflects a commitment to ensuring that every member of the community has access to a warm, safe, and welcoming environment, particularly during the harsh winter months. The Community Hub not only offers shelter but also resources for individuals experiencing homelessness. Additionally, the provision of six additional bed spaces at the Coverdale Centre for Women underscores the dedication to ensuring that no one is left without a space to go to. 

The tent fire incidents in Saint John serve as a reminder of the challenges faced by individuals experiencing homelessness, particularly during the winter months. While the cause of the fire remains under investigation, the incident underscores the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to address homelessness in the community. By coming together and prioritizing the well-being of all residents, Saint John works towards creating a more inclusive and compassionate society where every individual has a place to call home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles