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Public Safety Minister Kris Austin. Image: Government of New Brunswick YouTube video capture

Homelessness is not a state of emergency: minister

By Brad Perry Dec 6, 2023 | 6:35 AM

New Brunswick’s public safety minister is accusing the mayor of St. Stephen of playing politics.

This comes after the community declared a local state of emergency Monday due to the homelessness crisis.

Minister Kris Austin said Tuesday that he was disappointed by the council’s decision.

“It’s not something that should be used frivolously. A state of emergency is used in extreme and rare cases, and it is my opinion this does not fit a state of emergency,” said Austin.

The declaration came days after the death of a resident in a public space on Friday.

Austin was asked if he was suggesting that the death of a homeless person was frivolous.

“That is not the same thing. People die all the time in car accidents, we don’t cause a state of emergency over vehicles on the road,” he said.

“We can play politics with this and get nothing done or we can work together, which is what the minister of housing has been trying to do by offering over 20 sites to house people down there.”

A group of community members has been working since August to try and find a long-term solution for those experiencing homelessness.

The working group evaluated over 20 parcels of land, but they were told in late October that the piece of land they had been focused on was no longer available.

Social Development Minister Jill Green, who is also the minister responsible for housing, said the land in question was a Department of Transportation and Infrastructure property located near Route 1.

Green said DTI got the property through an expropriation process for building the highway.

“When a property is expropriated, you have to do a whole chain of events when you declare that property surplus and the first one is to go back to the original property owners and see if they’re interested in getting that land back,” she said.

“That process would take too long and we need an immediate solution here. It doesn’t mean maybe down the road that this might not be a good property for next year, but it is not an option for this year.”

Green acknowledged that NIMBYism — an acronym for Not in My Backyard — has been a problem with some of the parcels of land they were looking at.

The minister said collaboration is key to solving the homelessness crisis in St. Stephen and across the province.

“My hope is that we will settle on a property very, very quickly. We have the trailer ready to go so we can move it on-site and get it set up very, very quickly,” said Green.

Meanwhile, Austin said if the municipality cannot prove the homelessness crisis falls within the definition of a state of emergency, he will terminate the declaration by end-of-day Wednesday.