N.B. town declares state of local emergency over homelessness crisis after person’s death

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N.B. town declares state of local emergency over homelessness
WATCH: A state of emergency has been declared in St. Stephen, N.B., due to the town’s growing homelessness crisis. The town is unable to provide shelter for people who are unhoused – and now the mayor says it’s time for action to help the community. Nathalie Sturgeon has that story. – Dec 5, 2023

The Municipal District of St. Stephen in New Brunswick has declared a local state of emergency over the homelessness crisis, just days after someone died in a public space.

Meanwhile, the New Brunswick government has fired back by saying that such declarations are only for “true emergencies.”

Municipal council voted unanimously to make the declaration during an emergency council meeting Monday.

“The failure of the government of New Brunswick to provide adequate housing and social services to citizens affected by homelessness has resulted in deterioration of quality of life within our community,” Mayor Allan MacEachern read during the meeting.

The state of emergency further calls the situation a “public health and safety crisis” and points out that the provincial government is responsible for providing the resources needed.

In an interview Tuesday, MacEachern said he hopes the state of emergency will allow the province to step in and secure land for a shelter, which has been the most urgent need for the municipality.

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“We’re struggling with land,” he explained.

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“In the province’s defence, they are ready and willing to pay for managing it — all those things are worked out — but the land issue has been very contentious and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.”

MacEachern said there are about 50 to 100 people either homeless or housed precariously in the community. It’s estimated 30 people are rotating out of a makeshift shelter in the centre of town.

In response, the minister responsible for housing, Jill Green, told reporters the province considered at least 20 properties, but none was suitable.

“Yes, we need to move very, very quickly so my hope is that we’ll settle on a property very, very quickly,” Green said.

During Monday’s meeting, MacEachern said local emergency services have also been strained by the calls and the “crisis in our streets.” He said that on Dec. 1, emergency crews responded to a fatality in a public space that “only became more likely as winter weather conditions worsened.”

As part of the local state of emergency, the municipality is asking the province to provide the funding and resources needed to address the issue — including immediate housing and long-term solutions.

The municipality is giving the province permission to evacuate citizens, as necessary, so that the proper care can be provided.

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“This was something not taken lightly, folks, this was something we had to do as a community,” the mayor said at the conclusion of voting.

“We’re doing the right thing. They’re human beings and we have to take care of them.”

Public safety minister responds

On Tuesday, Public Safety Minister Kris Austin wrote a letter to the mayor asking him to provide the data that warranted the declaration.

“I accept that homelessness is a serious problem, not only for homeless persons but for their community and society,” Austin wrote.

“I also appreciate, as you must, that it is a complex problem, and a problem on which the Government of New Brunswick has directed considerable focus.”

Austin further went on to say that “in the absence of evidence of an actual emergency at law” and one that is “local and unique to St. Stephen,” he would be terminating the declaration of a state of local emergency.

Austin said he would make that determination by the “end of business” on Wednesday.

— with files from Global News’ Nathalie Sturgeon 

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