Homeless man’s death devastates frontline workers who tried to help

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With homeless numbers growing and temperatures dropping, the death of a man in downtown Moncton early Tuesday is being blamed on a lack of emergency shelter and support.

Debby Warren, executive director of Ensemble Moncton, said the man overdosed at the charity’s overdose prevention site Monday afternoon.

The staff revived him, but Warren was unable to find him a bed that night. He was found dead hours later in the public bathroom outside City Hall.

Warren began to cry as she thought back to that day and how after 90 minutes on the phone she tried to get help for the man but was turned away. Her staff worried that if he was left outside in the cold, he wouldn’t survive the night.

SEE | Debby Warren describes how the death of a homeless man has been devastating for staff

‘Their hearts are broken’: Ensemble Moncton staff feared homeless man wouldn’t survive the night without a bed

A Moncton man was revived after an overdose, but — with no shelter beds available and no help from a 911 phone — he died hours later.

“The individual was not in a good state of health and my staff were extremely concerned,” she said.

There is hundreds of people in the Moncton area who are homeless, and spend their nights finding shelter to stay warm. Emergency centers in the city are full, and Warren said that despite her best efforts and a call to a government helpline, she was unsuccessful.

‘It was crushing’

In desperation, Warren tried the Department of Social Development’s emergency hotline because the department has previously provided a hotel room. She was told by the person she spoke with that the “protocol” had recently changed and this service was no longer possible.

“I explained to her the emergency and the state of health of this person — that I was deeply concerned for his well-being and she, unfortunately, was powerless to help me,” Warren said.

CBC News has asked the Department of Social Development what its plan is for the coming winter with the shelters full and the number of people living outside in Moncton in the hundreds. CBC also asked what the policy around emergency hotel rooms is and if it has changed.

Spokeswoman Rebecca Howland said “contracts still need to be finalized and signed before details can be released” about the plan for the winter.

She did not answer the questions about the emergency hotel room policy or set anyone up for an interview.

“The Department of Social Development works on a case-by-case basis to provide support to New Brunswickers in desperate situations,” Howland said in an email.

“Anyone who feels in a desperate situation is encouraged to call the Department of Social Development hotline at 1-833-733-7835.”

Warren said when the man left Ensemble Monday night, he was very weak and it was difficult to walk and talk.

“You’re quite vulnerable when you’re alone out on the street, in the dark.”

On Tuesday morning, she heard that RCMP had found a man in his late 20s dead outside City Hall. Warren feared it was him.

“It was pretty terrible. My staff were wondering all day,” she said. “You don’t want it to be an individual.”

RCMP say a man in his late 20s was found dead outside Moncton City Hall in the public restrooms in the early hours of Tuesday. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Finally she confirmed that it was the same man.

“It was heartbreaking,” Warren said. “I did not know what to do for this gentleman—I had gone everywhere, I had tried my best to find places for this person to go.”

She explained that he refused to go to the hospital, which is common for people who use drugs, because “they are not always treated with the utmost respect when they show up.”

Forgotten New Brunswickers

Warren says this isn’t the first time she and her staff have been unable to find a safe place for a client.

She is emotional when she talks about what it is like for her and her staff to leave people on their front steps wrapped in blankets at the end of the day because there is no shelter available.

“It’s been built and nobody’s listening,” she said. “We’re charities, we’re nonprofits, and we’re exhausted.”

For the past two months, Warren has been regularly emailing Social Development, begging for a place for people who are homeless and struggling with addiction to go.

Warren has been emailing Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard for two months, asking the provincial government to quickly find a way to offer shelter to those who use drugs. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

On Monday afternoon, after exhausting all options for this man, she wrote again to Minister Dorothy Shephard with the subject line “Forgotten NBere”.

“Once again I am reaching out in desperation on behalf of the individuals Ensemble serves,” she said. “Clearly there are gaps when it comes to providing support/services to people who use drugs.”

“Today with the wind chill the temperature is around -8. Not comfortable sleeping outdoors. Can you tell me how we can humanely turn this and other individuals out into the winter cold?”

Gaps in services for the most vulnerable inhumans

Warren wants Shephard and members of her government to visit Ensemble and the other frontline service providers in the city.

“I try to be respectful,” Warren said of the emails she writes. “It is not easy to govern, but I want to tell you that it is not easy to take a person and leave them on the doorstep overnight.”

Warren believes that after a day of doing what she and her staff do, elected officials would find a way to act faster and more responsibly.

At Ensemble Moncton, people have been camping around the building since the summer because they have nowhere else to go. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

“Come and sleep on my deck for a night or two, and you will soon learn the importance of a quick decision,” she said.

“And don’t brag about having a big profit when New Brunswickers are sleeping on the streets.”

Harvest House opens warming center during daytime hours

At Harvest House Atlantic, one of Moncton’s two shelters, the 65 emergency beds are full. Executive director Marc Belliveau told CBC News the shelter has been over capacity since August.

Still, this week Harvest House began operating a daytime warming center from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., which can accommodate 60 people in addition to those who live there.

Harvest House Atlantic in Moncton has opened a warming center that can accommodate 60 people, in addition to the 65 people who live there, from 8.00 to 20.00 every day. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Belliveau said in the past week that the daily meal count has increased from 220 a day to 350 a day, and there is no way the organization can continue without additional support from the government.

“Harvest House Atlantic is saddened by the current situation,” Belliveau wrote in an email. “Our city is in a difficult situation right now and all of our frontline agencies are at breaking point.”

Like other non-profits, charities and church groups, Belliveau expressed frustration that winter is here and there are no options for people who need shelter.

“The fact that this has come down to the end of November to start discussing this situation is sad. Our agencies cannot continue to operate with limited funds and resources and are expected to again and again increase our support in the community .”

Marc Belliveau, chief executive of Harvest House, said people working on the front lines to help people who are homeless are at their ‘breaking point’ and more public support is needed. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

The biggest fear has come true

After learning that the man found dead in downtown Moncton was the same man she had tried to help, Warren sat down and wrote another email to Shephard and other members of the Blaine Higgs- government to tell them the tragic outcome.

In the email, Warren expressed her concern and frustration at what she had gone through to find shelter for this man, and told them how her worst fears had come true.

“And I haven’t heard a word from them,” she said later. “Not a word.”

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