ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- A homeless man in Newfoundland says he refuses to sleep in a shelter after workers wearing balaclavas and haz-mat suits tore down a tent encampment in St. John's on Friday.

Gregory McCain says he lost his tent when the province ordered the encampment dismantled, but he managed to get away with a backpack full of supplies, including his blankets and cook stove.

He says he has pitched another tent in a wooded area on the outskirts of the city, and that he would rather be sleeping rough than in a shelter in the city.

McCain says he has stayed in "disgusting" for-profit shelters before, where his room was smeared with blood and feces and his belongings were stolen because he couldn't lock the door.

John Abbott, the province's infrastructure minister, said Friday that the encampment was taken down because of safety concerns that arose after a fire there in late April.

He said nine of the 12 people living in tents at the encampment had accepted beds in shelters or hotels on Thursday night, before officials went in the following day to clear out the area.

The encampment was set up last fall beside a historic government building in downtown St. John's, and some residents repeatedly told reporters that they preferred braving the winter in a nylon tent than sleeping in a shelter offered by the province.

As officials tore down tents and fenced off the encampment area on Friday, several people showed up to protest the action and hold up signs supporting the unhoused people who lived there.

Jeremy Nolan held a sign saying, "Eyes on tent city." He said in an interview that people have a right to housing, and they have a right to refuse shelter options offered by the provincial government.

"People know this is wrong," Nolan said about the masked workers emptying out the encampment. "Hopefully we get some clarity about what the heck's going on around here."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2024.