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St. Stephen looks to next steps following state of emergency termination

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Nothing has changed on the streets of St. Stephen, N.B., following the termination of the local state of emergency in the border town Wednesday night by Public Safety Minister Kris Austin.

“I’ve been more or less deflated and like what is my next move,” says the Municipality of St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern.

The mayor says a sense of shock was felt in the community following Wednesday’s state of emergency termination, which came just 48 hours after it was first declared in the border town. Rather then throw his hands up, MacEachern got right back to work to find a solution to get his town’s homeless out of the cold.

“We got a couple goals right? We may have lost the fight but we got a couple goals so we are going to take and work with those goals to get these people off the street period,” the mayor says. “We got to do what’s right in the end so hopefully everyone accepts that and allows this moment right now.”

Since the termination letter, MacEachern has spoken to both Austin and Social Development Minister Jill Green. He says the parties have all put the past behind them and are ready and willing to work together to find answers.

Those answers may not take long to get to the public.

“We have an immediate solution that we hopefully put in place in the morning, and then we have a medium term solution,” Green told reporters in Fredericton. “Then we're really looking at a long term solution because it's necessary to get people that are experiencing homelessness to be housed. That's our ultimate goal.”

“We all did what we did, right or wrong it’s an important matter,” says MacEachern on all the comments made by all sides during the week. “At the end of the day we did this for action and we got some wins out of that regardless. We have more community support then we ever have and I think we helped the province realize just how serious the situation is.”

Emily Muir is the community services manager at the Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County. The facility is located in St. Stephen and also is the home of the town’s foodbank.

Muir sees the homeless population on a regular basis, and says they are hoping these promises come to fruition.

“They are feeling very unheard, dismissed, ignored, and frustrated,” says Muir. “A lot of people don’t think [the homeless population] are taking the steps or reaching out to the right places and those sorts of things. They had roofs over their heads, a lot of them, but lost those and have been left on the streets. Anyplace they have gone to for help, it’s been for lack of better terms kind of passing the buck.”

Just because the emergency order has ended doesn’t mean the feeling has changed among those living rough.

“The people who are on the streets in these emergency situations feel it’s not a matter of waiting and ‘we’ll see we will get to that later,’ it’s now,” Muir insists. “It is an emergency.”

Kathy Bockus is the member of the legislative assembly for the St. Stephen area. Throughout the week the MLA had not made any comments publically on the matter in her riding. Thursday during question period she broke her silence, assuring her constituents she is working on the issue.

“I have been focusing my efforts daily, sometimes two and three times a day, with the departments in government to get a solution for this,” Bockus says. “And I will continue to do that until we have a solution. I have not forgotten my community and I will work very, very hard and will continue to work very hard for the citizens there.”

For other communities feeling in a similar spot to St. Stephen, the public safety minister says help is on the way.

“We're going to solve it without a state of emergency,” Austin said during question period Thursday. “And we will do it in every community to ensure everybody gets the health and safety and shelter they need in this province.”

Encouraging words for those dealing with the homeless as the nights are set to only get colder.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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