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State of emergency order terminated in St. Stephen less than 48 hours after its announcement

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New Brunswick Safety Minister Kris Austin has terminated the local state of emergency due to the homelessness crisis in the municipality of St. Stephen less than 48 hours after its announcement.

In a letter to St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern, Austin acknowledged the town's concerns, but says a state of emergency should only be used for “imminent threats to a community or the province that cannot be managed without resort to mandates.”

MacEachern sent a letter to the minister Tuesday night expressing why he feels this is a state of emergency.

“This took a lot of investigating and making sure that we are representing our community members properly and not being frivolous, [Austin’s] words, and we were not,” says the mayor. “We took this very serious.”

The state of emergency in the border town was the first topic raised at question period on Wednesday at the Fredericton legislature by Liberal Leader Susan Holt.

“They [St. Stephen] are looking for help and I have asked the minister to confirm what actions will he and his department take, to help the municipality of St. Stephen keep people safe and ensure not another person dies."

Austin fired back at the Liberal leader, blaming her party for the problem.

“All of these issues we are facing today are based on Trudeau policies, leftist agendas that is degrading our society that we are seeing right across the country,” said Austin. “So the blame has got to stop between municipal, provincial, and federal governments. We have to work together on these issues so these people have a warm place to sleep and food in their bellies.”

Question period began with Holt asking the minister to apologize for his comments made on Tuesday about a homeless man who passed away in St. Stephen last week, comparing his death to that of one in a car accident.

“We have a man Adam Dickerson, 41, has three children, has a mother who is mourning right now, and to have her son's death brushed off by the minister is cruel,” Holt told reporters afterwards. “I gave him the opportunity to express some empathy today and acknowledge the family, but instead he passes the buck and points the finger. That is not leadership.”

The grassroots movement in St. Stephen “Take Back Our Town” has a vigil walk planned for Friday night to honour the life of Dickerson.

On Tuesday, Social Development Minister Jill Green said she had made numerous attempts to get in contact with the mayor of St. Stephen to no avail. MacEachern says this isn’t the case.

“I was suppose to get a call Tuesday following a meeting I had with Minister Green and I did not receive that call,” says MacEachern. “That’s the issue I have with that. That’s just being petty like let’s not start pointing fingers and blame, and I am not even blaming them. I am just asking for a stronger response to this serious issue.”

MacEachern's biggest hope in implementing the emergency act was to have the province step up and aid the community in getting a warming shelter in place.

There have been issues securing a spot for the shelter, and MacEachern is looking to find any sort of temporary solutions before the nights get colder than they already are.

“It’s December, we need to get these people out of the cold and work on a more long-term solution later,” says the St. Stephen mayor. “Even though that long-term solution should already (be in) place, let’s take care of the problem at hand right now. We have people’s lives at risk.”

The sentiment was echoed by the Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick who released their own letter of support for the municipality on Wednesday.

“Homelessness is a problem across the province,” says executive director Dan Murphy. “Everyone is taking note as I think this is the first time we have seen it declared over a homelessness issue.

“State of the emergencies aren’t things that are declared lightly. The community has identified a problem, and the municipality doesn’t have the resources the province does when it comes to dealing with mental health or housing, and either does it have the bench strength or the resources to address these issues.”

The Municipal District of St. Stephen has yet to announce what their next steps will be following the termination of the emergency order.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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