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St. Stephen councillors meet for their regular monthly meeting on April 24, 2024. Image: CHCO-TV video capture

Concern in St. Stephen ahead of warming centre closure

By Brad Perry Apr 26, 2024 | 3:23 PM

St. Stephen councillors are raising concerns about the impending closure of the town’s 24-hour warming centre.

Officials say many unhoused people will be left without refuge or shelter when the centre closes on Tuesday.

The matter was discussed briefly during April’s monthly council meeting on Wednesday night.

Coun. Marg Harding said she has received several calls from citizens in recent days.

“We have a serious problem. I don’t know what we’re going to do about it,” said Harding.

“Is there any way that we can contact the provincial government to see if there’s any sort of reprise for these people?”

In response, Mayor Allan MacEachern said he has been told by Jill Green, the minister responsible for housing, that the province is working on a solution.

CAO Jeff Renaud also noted that he had a meeting scheduled for Thursday with the department’s deputy minister.

“I’ve also had a couple of individuals talk to me that the homeless now are starting to move,” said Coun. Earle Eastman.

“The dog park area is another issue. As it gets cold at nighttime, they’re going to light fires.”

Coun. Emily Rodas said it is important to remember that homelessness is a complex issue, adding there are strategies that have worked in other provinces.

Rodas said she wishes that government officials had planned ahead for the closure, which was known about for several weeks.

“We need to plan for encampment sites, we need to plan for people to tent, we need to plan for a shelter, plan for supportive housing, plan for affordable housing, and plan for mixed-residential. That’s what they do everywhere else in Canada.”

“It’s not a one-solution fix where you just build an apartment building and it goes away. You can’t just put people in one particular centre. It’s way more complex than that.

“I think when you have non-profits in this community who are being funded by the provincial government to do the work, we need to support them outwardly and openly as council, especially when we call an emergency order about this issue.”

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.