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24/7 warming centre opened for homeless in St. Stephen, N.B.

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After what has been a rollercoaster week for the Municipality of St. Stephen, N.B., progress is finally being shown.

Late Friday afternoon, a 24 hour, seven day a week drop in centre was announced to help the homeless in the border town. It’s the first overnight area for those living rough to go to escape the cold winter nights.

The centre will be run by Neighbourhood Works Inc. (NWI) and will offer refuge from the cold, along with access to food and beverages. The centre will not be able to provide sleeping accommodations due to regulatory constraints.

It’s the first sign of change from the border town, who on Monday declared a local state of emergency due to the homelessness crisis in the community. There are anywhere from 70 to 100 people living rough in the border town.

“That’s not the medium or long-term solution,” says Susan Holt, the leader of the Liberal Party of New Brunswick. “But the community has worked hard to try and find ways to bring people out of the cold right now so it is a decent first step.”

The municipality continues to work with the provincial government on opening a shelter in St. Stephen to offer the homeless a warm place to sleep. Public Safety Minister Kris Austin, who terminated the local state of emergency Wednesday, continues to beat home these issues never needed the state of emergency in the first place.

“The solution we are finding in St. Stephen have been worked on and we are doing it without a state of emergency,” says Austin. “We are going to get things done and I’m very confident that these are the types of things that again you work within the parameters of what we got and get results.”

Some residents don’t share then same sense of optimism.

Brenda Belanger has lived in St. Stephen for a year. She has travelled across the country in the last six months and notes homelessness is an issue coast-to-coast. One that is unacceptable.

“For a country that is as rich as we are to have this many homeless, especially here in St. Stephen is shameful,” Belanger says. “One in every 71 people are homeless and I can’t see it getting any better.”

Ahead of the warming centre announcement, Belanger says she has seen residents in the community come together to do what they can to help the vulnerable population.

“You have plenty of people who are willing to step up. St. Stephen is a very generous community so you know we all are looking out for each other.”

Cheyann Matthews, one of the co-founders of the grassroots movement “Take Back Our Town," is pleased to see change finally occurring, but says these issues should have been solved long before this point.

She points to the black eye it paints for those who visit St. Stephen, especially from the U.S.A., that the town can’t take care of their own.

“We are a border community and when you have 12 to 15 people sharing a shelter that’s basically a monument to welcome to Canada and welcome to St. Stephen that encampment screams volumes to people who come from the United States that have never visited Canada,” she says. “That’s where we make our homeless shelter for our people and that is not okay.”

Friday night at 7 p.m. a candlelight vigil will be held to honour the life of Adam Dickerson in front of MLA Kathy Bockus’ office. Dickerson was homeless and passed away last week while living on the streets.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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