‘We’re lending people hope’: Under the Tent

Still of 'Under the Tent,' held in front of the Victory Meat Market on Kings Street downtown Fredericton. (Submitted: Bill McLaughlin)

“What does a person with a Ph.D. in Social Work, a Master of Business Education, a Bachelor of Science… a professional EMT and a first Canadian National draft choice for the NHL have in common?” asked Frank William, founder of Under the Tent.

The answer is they have all been helped by William’s organization, which seeks to assist those in need on the streets of Fredericton with food, clothing and hot drinks.

“Since February 2020, I have served everybody with that background on the street. They’re all addicts,” said William.

In 2023, the city had 196 people experiencing homelessness according to the Homeless Hub. From that number, 166 individuals experienced chronic homelessness, which means they have been living on the streets for a while.

“All I did was just show up every Friday, they know we’re going to be there,” he said. “That means so much to somebody that has uncertainty in their life everywhere.”

William started Under the Tent in February 2020 with only a small coffee thermos, half a box of oatmeal cookies and the back of his van.

“Nobody showed up except one guy, he said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Well, you want a coffee?’… ‘How much?’… ‘No, no charge, just coffee’,” said William.

Since that moment, William committed to learning and has been trying to meet people’s different needs. He said the people that they help are more than what meets the eye because drugs and addiction touch every cross-section of life.

For William, there must be more done than just giving out because “they all have some kind of unresolved pain.”

“If you’re careful and you’ve got a group of people who are compassionate, it’s just amazing how they can change in the twinkle of an eye,” said William.

He wants to focus on inner healing because he does not want to see anybody freeze to death — which is all too common. According to CBC New Brunswick, more than half of the frostbite cases treated in the past two winters by Horizon Health Network have involved people without a house or “living roughly.”

“Love will draw people. It won’t chase them away.”

Dave Hardy, a volunteer with Under the Tent, said that they want to make a difference in the hearts and minds of people who “have fallen away for one reason or another.”

“We just want to show them that they’re still people and they still have purpose and have meaning,” said Hardy. “We’re lending people hope.”

Hardy, who got involved with Under the Tent after recovering from substance abuse, said everybody needs a friend and someone to believe in them.

“To me, it’s a privilege to be able to go out and help people, to show that they are loved and accepted,” said Hardy. “Many that we’ve crossed paths with have lost sight of that a long time ago.”

Fellow volunteer Mary Jo Roy runs the other Under the Tent site at the Saint John Evangelist Anglican Church. She started volunteering a year and a half ago which was the first time she got involved working with people experiencing homelessness.

“I just stopped and I started talking to them,” said Roy. “I just feel God put a desire in my heart.”

She explained that they communicate with the other branch of Under the Tent to make personalized donations to meet different needs.

“We asked them, ‘What do you need?’ And then we try to get what they need,” said Roy.

“We just want to make them feel welcome, comfortable and valued.”