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St. Stephen council held an emergency meeting on Dec. 4, 2023, to declare a local state of emergency. Image: Facebook video capture

St. Stephen declares state of emergency amid homelessness crisis

By Brad Perry Dec 4, 2023 | 8:13 PM

The Municipal District of St. Stephen has declared a local state of emergency amid a homelessness crisis in the border community.

Council unanimously approved the declaration during an emergency special council meeting held Monday night.

The move comes days after the death of a resident in a public space on Friday — a situation Mayor Allan MacEachern said only become more likely as winter weather conditions worsened.

“The Government of New Brunswick has failed its duties to provide adequate resources to house, support and care for its citizens within the Municipal District of St. Stephen,” MacEachern said during Monday’s meeting.

MacEachern said the homelessness crisis continues to grow, leading to deplorable living conditions, illness and death of unhoused and unsheltered individuals in the community, and placing additional strain on local public safety resources.

There are currently about 70 people experiencing homelessness in the community, the mayor said at Monday’s meeting.

Under the state of local emergency, the municipality has ordered the province to implement the following actions:

  • Premier Blaine Higgs authorize the release of the portion of the $1.5 billion surplus held by his government over the past three years to fully fund the immediate response to the public health and safety crisis currently existing in St. Stephen;
  • Social Development Minister Jill Green direct her department to allocate the resources necessary to address the growing needs of the homeless population;
  • Jill Green, as the minister responsible for housing, undertake steps that may be necessary to provide immediate housing of the growing vulnerable population;
  • Health Minister Bruce Fitch dedicate resources, as are necessary, to address the growing public health crisis associated with the growing homelessness population;
  • Education Minister Bill Hogan make available transportation options, such as school buses, for any needs identified in response to this declaration;
  • Finance Minister Ernie Steeves make such financial resources as will be necessary to fully fund the immediate and long-term solutions being implemented under this order;
  • Kathy Bockus, the minister responsible for seniors, work with her colleagues and ensure that all citizens of St. Stephen are appropriately protected and cared for, with special attention to senior citizens currently experiencing homelessness.

The municipality also ordered the province to implement an emergency response “with the specific goal of providing emergency medical, social and other essential services to those members of our community experiencing homelessness and suffering from mental health, drug addiction and the need to engage in criminal activities in order to survive in the conditions of a Canadian winter.”

St. Stephen is also giving the province permission to evacuate citizens as needed to a location “where adequate care and protection can be provided.”

“This is something that was not taken lightly,” said MacEachern. “No matter what we did, we’re doing the right thing. They’re human beings and we’ve got to take care of them.

A group of community members has been working to open a warming shelter in the community to provide support to those experiencing homelessness.

The group identified a parcel of land in mid-October but was later told that it was no longer a viable option.

Our newsroom has reached out to the province for comment.

Emergency Special Council Meeting December 4th, 2023

Emergency Special Council Meeting December 4th, 2023

Posted by Municipal District of St. Stephen on Monday, December 4, 2023