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'This is a very serious issue:' St. Stephen declares local state of emergency after homeless person dies

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The Municipal District of St. Stephen in New Brunswick has declared a local state of emergency over homelessness.

The municipality held an emergency council meeting Monday night demanding help from the provincial government in dealing with the crisis.

There are currently about 70-100 people who are homeless in St. Stephen, and one person died last Friday.

“On December first, Municipal District of St. Stephen emergency services were forced to respond to a fatality of a resident in a public space in a situation that only became more likely as winter weather conditions worsen,” says Allan MacEachern, Municipal District of St. Stephen mayor.

Under the declaration, council issued a list of actions to be immediately taken by the province, including releasing a portion of its surplus to help.

“This is a very serious issue. I don’t like the fact our community is putting the province on the spot like this but it is something we have to do,” says MacEachern.

The province doesn’t share the same level of urgency.

“State of emergency is an extremely rare event that only happens when it is desperately needed, and there are parameters around what that means and there’s a definition around what that means and they haven’t met it,” says Kris Austin, public safety minister.

Residents in St. Stephen feel the state of emergency is justified. They formed a grassroots movement called “Take Back Our Town” to aid the homelessness crisis.

“It was needed. We agree with the mayor and council on this. Unfortunately, we felt it was a state of emergency for some time now, for three months,” says Brent MacPherson, Take Back Our Town co-founder.

“There has been a huge reaction from my community, a lot of support,” says MacEachern.

Currently, about 30 people are living in a makeshift shelter on a rotational basis, and the biggest hope from the declaration is that a site can be picked for a warming centre. Social Development Minister Jill Green says 20 different sites have been explored with the majority having been rejected because of a 'not in my backyard mentality.'

“These people experiencing homelessness deserve our care, and we need to think about how we can support them and stop thinking about what's happening in our backyards and be supportive of individuals that are experiencing homelessness,” said Green.

MacEachern says his biggest focus right now is getting those on the streets into some sort of temporary shelter until a permanent solution can be found.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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