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St. Stephen residents Cheyann Matthews (left) and Brent MacPherson (right) formed the group Take Back Our Town. Image: Submitted

‘It’s a crisis’: St. Stephen residents look to address homelessness, crime

By Brad Perry Nov 27, 2023 | 7:01 AM

A group of residents in St. Stephen is calling for action to tackle a number of growing issues in the community.

Cheyann Matthews and Brent MacPherson are the co-organizers of a group called Take Back Our Town.

Their goal is to raise awareness about homelessness, drug addiction and crime, and to help come up with solutions.

“There have been so many meetings with people about concerns. It feels real worthwhile and needed,” MacPherson said in an interview.

A public meeting took place in October where residents had the opportunity to ask questions of a panel.

They included RCMP Sgt. Scott MacKenzie, Jennifer Anderson-Apopei with Horizon Health’s addiction and mental health services, Richard Hyslop with the Needle Dog service, and two recovering addicts.

A roundtable discussion is also in the works to dig deeper into the action items and issues identified so far.

Matthews said her biggest push is to get a warming centre in the community, which she said is “desperately needed.”

She said there are about 100 people currently experiencing homelessness in St. Stephen, including 60 who are living on the streets.

“It’s a crisis situation in our community. I, myself, personally do not want to wake up and find someone has frozen to death with these temperatures dropping as fast as they are,” said Matthews.

A spokesperson for the Department of Social Development said they are committed to funding an out-of-the-cold shelter in St. Stephen once an “appropriate location” has been identified by the community.

“Since the summer, Social Development has been actively involved with a local group to find a suitable location for an out-of-the-cold shelter,” Howland said in a statement last week.

Matthews said there is also a need for more services to be brought to St. Stephen to help those who need it.

“Be it mental health, be it medical services, be it addiction services, rehab beds, all of that stuff needs to be acquired,” she said.

There also needs to be more of a focus on creating low-income and affordable housing in the community, said Matthews.

“If you have home security, if you know you have a roof over your head, you tend to want to do better for yourself because you have pride,” she said. “From there, you’re building that person up instead of tearing them down.”

Matthews said they have talked to many people experiencing homelessness who feel a sense of desperation to simply try and stay alive, especially during the winter months.

“When you need to get warm, you’re going to do things that you wouldn’t normally do because of that desperation. That means you’re going to break into abandoned buildings or you’re going to break into those abandoned sheds,” she said.

“Those people that are living rough are going to start fires or they’re going to have little propane heaters, and there is a possibility of fire at that point and loss of life.”

MacPherson said another action item they have identified is policing in St. Stephen and throughout Charlotte County.

“We’re not putting it out there that the option is to replace the RCMP here. What we put as an action item is basically that it gets explored,” he said.

Following the upcoming roundtable, MacPherson said their group will do up a report and submit it to all levels of government.

“All levels of government have to be at the table and address this. We will lobby and advocate and see that things are addressed and keep on top of that,” he said.