Lethbridge residents voice concern over crime near emergency COVID-19 housing

Lethbridge residents voice concerns about crime near COVID-19 shelter
Lethbridge city officials and police have received a number of concerned calls from south-side residents regarding crime around the area of temporary COVID-19 isolation housing. As Emily Olsen reports, the manager of the motel in question believes this type of housing is crucial to the pandemic response.

Lethbridge residents living near the Superlodge Motel are voicing their concerns to both the city and police after months of criminal activity they believe is due to the motel’s temporary COVID-19 isolation housing.

Just a year after moving into her south-side home next to the Superlodge, Cayley Pierzchala wants to move. 

“I love the house, and we’ve made lots of upgrades to the house, but I absolutely hate the neighbourhood,” Pierzchala said.

“I just don’t feel safe here with my children.”

READ MORE: Lethbridge increases shelter space for homeless population to prevent spread of COVID-19

Like many of her neighbors, she said she’s had thefts as well as needles and drug paraphernalia on her property.

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City officials said they have received numerous complaint calls, but said the few individuals they did have in emergency isolation are not to blame. 

“We needed to move people out of homeless shelters into another stage of housing as quickly as possible to reduce the numbers and make sure that we have proper physical distancing,” Tony Vanden Heuvel, the director of Community Services, explained. “There’s a number of individuals there from different agencies that have no connection with the City of Lethbridge.”

4 new COVID-19 related deaths in Calgary continuing care facilities announced Thursday
4 new COVID-19 related deaths in Calgary continuing care facilities announced Thursday

Lethbridge police said the number of calls for service to the area have increased in the last two months in comparison with last year. 

“When we look at our calls for service, our top calls are for disturbances, suspicious people and then thefts,” Insp. Dwayne Smith said.

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Superlodge manager Sharon Owczar says she takes pride in the support they’re providing to vulnerable populations during COVID-19.

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“If we don’t do anything for these homeless people, they’d be out spreading this pandemic everywhere,” Owczar said.

READ MORE: Alberta confirms 4 more deaths at continuing care sites due to COVID-19 Thursday

She also said they have provided transitional housing through agencies like McMan and the Canadian Mental Health Association for more than a year.

“We’re just trying to help people.”

She says the low impact of COVID-19 in Lethbridge can be credited to the city’s immediate response with housing like this and she’s honoured to be part of it.

“I’m so proud of Lethbridge right now because, look at our numbers,” Owczar said. “They’re fantastic because they’ve been on top of it.”

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In the future, the city said it will be more careful not to over saturate housing facilities and will coordinate more with partnering agencies, but maintain the isolation efforts are a success.

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“We’re down to three [people at the Superlodge] today,” Vanden Heuvel said. “And those three individuals, hopefully in the next two weeks, will be relocated elsewhere.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta emergency isolation support website offline due to ‘high volume of traffic’

Pierzchala said she understands the need for such housing, but wants to see better security and location decisions made.

“I still feel for these people because they are human. It is a tough situation. But what has happened here is just not okay,” she said. “They’re doing drugs and they’re stealing things in a residential area, across from a school, and that’s just not okay.”