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Saint Croix MLA Kathy Bockus speaks with residents ahead of a public meeting about a homeless shelter in St. Stephen on Jan. 18, 2024. Image: Vicki Hogarth/CHCO-TV

St. Stephen homeless shelter ‘on pause,’ say residents

By Brad Perry Jan 19, 2024 | 5:29 PM

A homeless shelter in St. Stephen appears to have been put “on pause” for now, according to residents living near the planned site.

It followed a closed-door meeting Thursday night where residents from the Happy Valley Road area had the chance to express their concerns.

“Just to put it bluntly, we won,” Andrea McCaffrey, a spokesperson for the group of residents, told reporters following the lengthy meeting.

“It has been put on pause for now until we can help them find a suitable location with a possibility of going into something long-term and not a temporary waste of money.”

The province announced Tuesday that a location had been “finalized” for phase one of a “temporary housing initiative” for people experiencing homelessness in St. Stephen.

It would have seen mobile trailers set up on vacant land located at the end of Happy Valley Road, near Route 1, by late February.

However, a group of residents and business owners who live near the site raised concerns about having a homeless shelter in their neighbourhood.

McCaffrey said they are willing to help the working group try to find a more suitable location for the shelter in the community, adding they are worried about those who do not have a place to call home.

“They shouldn’t be put in that situation, but we also, as a neighbourhood, shouldn’t be put in the situation of the drugs and the criminal part that comes with it,” she said.

“Do we need a solution? Absolutely, no questions asked. Should these people have a place to go? Absolutely. But you can’t put it in the backyard of the neighbourhoods and then expect people not to get riled up and excited.”

McCaffrey said they were assured by Saint Croix MLA Kathy Bockus that the project had been paused for not, but the MLA refused to confirm that when asked by reporters.

“This was not my meeting,” said Bockus. “I’m pleased, though, that I was able to attend and listen to the concerns that were voiced. I want to stress that the province is here to continue to work with Neighbourhood Works and the community to find a solution for this.”

“The committee is going to take their concerns back, evaluate them, listen to what was said tonight, and then go forward from there.”

Residents gather for a public meeting in St. Stephen on Jan. 18, 2024, about a proposed homeless shelter on Happy Valley Road. Image: Vicki Hogarth/CHCO-TV

St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern said he also got the impression from Bockus during the meeting that the project has been put on hold.

But just because the shelter is not moving ahead right now, he said, does not mean the town’s homelessness problems no longer exist.

“We still need to deal with it. Those issues we’re talking about in there tonight still exist, so I want to make sure that the government is committed to taking care of this serious issue that we’re in,” said MacEachern.

MacEachern credited the work being done by a local organization to help the more than 100 people in the community who are experiencing homelessness.

Neighbourhood Works is currently operating an around-the-clock drop-in centre for those experiencing homelessness, but cannot provide sleeping accommodations due to regulatory issues.

“The purpose of tonight’s meeting was to get the neighbour’s feedback, so we’ve got all their feedback and the concerns. As an organization, we’re going to take that back, look at it, and then move forward from there hopefully,” said Jim Stuart, executive director of Neighbourhood Works.

Meanwhile, MacEachern said he can understand the concerns of residents who came forward at Thursday night’s meeting.

“Their concerns are valid. They’re concerned because they don’t understand what’s going to happen. But they’re also very supportive,” said MacEachern.

St. Stephen declared a local state of emergency on Dec. 4 amid the ongoing homelessness crisis in the community.

New Brunswick’s public safety minister cancelled the order two days later, saying no state of local emergency existed in the municipality.

In a statement late Friday, the Department of Social Development said it will continue to work closely with the municipality and partners on the next steps to support those experiencing homelessness in St. Stephen.

“The government is here to help municipalities as they consult with their councils and communities to decide what is the best fit for their residents. The government would never impose a solution in a community that wasn’t the best fit for that community,” said the statement.

“Addressing homelessness requires a collaborative approach between the province, municipalities and community to address the unique needs in their area.”

With files from CHCO-TV.