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St. Stephen residents' group concerned after location announced for homeless shelter

Following months of spotlight on the homeless issue in St. Stephen, the province has announced a location for a shelter, but neighbours say they weren't consulted.  (Graham Thompson/CBC - image credit)
Following months of spotlight on the homeless issue in St. Stephen, the province has announced a location for a shelter, but neighbours say they weren't consulted. (Graham Thompson/CBC - image credit)

More than six weeks after St. Stephen declared a state of emergency over homelessness — and the public safety minister dismissed the move — the New Brunswick government has announced the "finalized" location of a "temporary housing initiative" for the town's homeless people.

The site is at 24 Happy Valley Rd., on the outskirts of the border town, near Highway 1. The province said it will be  operational by late February but didn't have details yet about what will happen there.

"Details related to site plans, preparation, utilities and delivery of mobile units (trailers) will be finalized in the coming weeks following discussions with immediate neighbours," the province said in a news release.

On Tuesday, residents and businesses in the Happy Valley Road area received letters inviting them to a public meeting at the Garcelon Civic Centre on Thursday at 6 p.m. to hear the "preliminary plan" for the shelter.

They'll also be able to ask questions, but only two people from each household or business that received the letter can attend.

The meeting is not public, both St. Stephen CAO Jeff Renaud and Mayor Allan MacEachern said. At the bottom of the letter is a notice in bold that the letter must be presented at the meeting to be admitted.

"I wouldn't call it restricted, but first of all it's not our meeting," MacEachern said Wednesday afternoon, adding that the meeting is hosted by the provincial Department of Social Development.

Although the town has portrayed homelessness as a town-wide public issue, at a minimum, and claimed it wanted to draw attention to the need for help coping with it, only residents and businesses on or near Happy Valley Lane are invited to the meeting.

The letters to nearby property owners are signed by the Municipal District of St. Stephen, not the province.

St. Stephen mayor Allan MacEachern said ministers Kris Austin and Jill Green were being "petty" in their response to his state of emergency declaration on homelessness.
St. Stephen mayor Allan MacEachern said ministers Kris Austin and Jill Green were being "petty" in their response to his state of emergency declaration on homelessness.

St. Stephen mayor Allan MacEachern said the decision to make Thursday's meeting restricted to nearby residents is the province's decision, not the municipality's. (Graham Thompson/CBC News)

When asked why the letters came from St. Stephen if it's the province's meeting, MacEachern said the province asked the town to send the letters. He said the meeting is just for people affected by the development, excluding homeless people.

CBC News has asked the Department of Social Development why the meeting isn't public but has not received a response.

"I don't deny that the whole community should have their say, no," MacEachern said. "But I also want [the people who were invited] to be able to have their say without interference. It's a very important issue that they want answers to."

In December, he told CBC News there were 70 to 100 homeless people in St. Stephen.

Residents form group to fight location

Not everyone is happy about the new location.

"We want to know if it's a done deal, for one thing, if it's a possibility to get it moved to a different location, because that location is just not acceptable," said Andrea McCaffrey, who is the spokesperson for a group called Concerned Neighbours of Happy Valley Lane.

McCaffrey said the group of about 18 residents heard "through the grapevine" that this location was likely to be chosen.

"It's a little side street that's probably got 10 or 15 houses up along it — very quiet, very, you know, hush, no issues at all," McCaffrey said, adding the street is also close to the high school.

Andrea McCaffrey is the spokesperson for a group of 18 neighbours calling themselves "Concerned Neighbours of Happy Valley Road" and wants to see a different location chosen.
Andrea McCaffrey is the spokesperson for a group of 18 neighbours calling themselves "Concerned Neighbours of Happy Valley Road" and wants to see a different location chosen.

Andrea McCaffrey is the spokesperson for a group of 18 neighbours calling themselves "Concerned Neighbours of Happy Valley Road" and wants to see a different location chosen. (Submitted by Andrea McCaffrey)

The issue of homelessness in St. Stephen reached a breaking point in late November, when a man who was homeless was found dead in a public park.

St. Stephen's municipal council declared a state of emergency, saying there was a lack of urgency from the province to deal with the issue.

Public Safety Minister Kris Austin voided the declaration two days later, calling it "frivolous" and "political posturing."

A week later, the town announced plans for a 24-hour drop in centre for the homeless population, and said a more permanent solution would be announced soon.

McCaffrey said the group is not "against homelessness," but has concerns about safety and property values, and wants to see a location picked farther from town.

The location at 24 Happy Valley Road, shown here, is on the outskirts of St. Stephen near Highway 1 and the high school.
The location at 24 Happy Valley Road, shown here, is on the outskirts of St. Stephen near Highway 1 and the high school.

The location at 24 Happy Valley Road, shown here, is on the outskirts of St. Stephen near Highway 1 and the high school. (Google Maps)

"We're worried of what it's going to bring to the community or closer to our homes and properties. Just worried for seniors. Worried for the children at the high school," she said.

Nearby business concerned

Jamie Kinney is the general manager of Downey Ford, which is right across the street from Happy Valley Rd.

He said he's concerned about a lack of communication from the province before announcing the location was finalized.

Kinney said he and his staff have had issues in the past with a homeless encampment behind his business, which led to theft.

"I was always up at night time, worried about what was going to happen … I'd have sleepless nights because of the incidents that were happening here," Kinney said.

Kinney said he's also concerned about the proximity to the high school his kids attend.

He said it comes down to the lack of solutions for drug addiction and mental illness in St. Stephen.

Neighbourhood Works, the St. Stephen non-profit that will be running the new centre, did not respond to request for comment from CBC News when reached on both Tuesday and Wednesday.