Lethbridge community still ‘in the dark’ 1 month since ARCHES audit

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WATCH ABOVE: ARCHES Supervised Consumption Site has still not responded to community concerns one month after the site received an audit that resulted in its provincial funding being pulled. As Emily Olsen reports, PR experts say the crisis could and should have been handled differently.

Thursday marks exactly one month since ARCHES officials said they would speak about its audit and the closure of its services.

Since that time, multiple attempts by Global News to get in touch with ARCHES have gone unanswered.

The provincial government pulled its funding from the organization in July after an audit revealed financial irregularities.

Many of the Lethbridge businesses surrounding the supervised consumption site were surprised to not have been included as recipients of a brief letter that went out this week, which announced ARCHES’ official closure on Aug. 31.

“We’re kind of in the dark about a lot of this,” Long and McQuade manager Dave Khallil admitted.

Read more: ARCHES to cease supervised consumption services on Aug. 31

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“I don’t know what their plans are for this or what they intended to do. You would think, though, that if they’re going to go to the trouble of putting a letter together and hand it out to a few people, they’d probably do it with everybody else.”

The letter did not offer an opportunity for follow-up questions, which Khallil, says isn’t surprising.

 “Given what happened there, it sounds like there’s a bit of disarray, so I can imagine that there’s some confusion with a lot of things going on at this point in time,” he said.

“And being that they’re vacating as quickly as they are, it’s probably not their highest priority to get around to everyone in the neighbourhood here.”

Local PR expert Bob Cooney says managing public information should be a higher priority.

“The ARCHES board could have taken more radical steps to manage the issues relating to operations and financial accountability months ago,” Cooney explained.

“Announce their own audit, dismiss some people, restructure some services. [In the] worst case, [they could] even call in the police themselves… It might have bought them some breathing room to move forward with other efforts.”
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Cooney says some key points to managing any public relations crisis are to get ahead of and “own” the story by telling it first-hand, be available for questions and willingly redirect to law enforcement or government officials in issues of legality.

“At this point, the only thing the ARCHES people can do is respond as they have: with the closure note,” Cooney said. “There may be legal or other reasons for not being able to talk more, but at the very least they could have noted that.”

As for the criminal investigation into the audit’s findings, Lethbridge police didn’t provide an update Thursday.

Read more: ARCHES audit findings turned over to Lethbridge police for investigation

An LPS spokesperson did tell Global News they will be co-ordinating with the health minister’s office to report on the outcome when the investigation concludes.

Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman says he has heard the community’s concerns about needle debris, security and the continuation of services, but is reminding citizens that these health decisions fall to Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services.

“Alberta Health has declared their commitment to move towards a treatment and recovery model of care for our community, which we believe will address many social issues in our city,” the mayor said in a statement Thursday.

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“The City of Lethbridge will support our provincial health partners so they can provide the best care possible to our residents. When we are aware of what the new services in our community will look like, that information will be shared with residents.”

Read more: Government pulls grant funding from Lethbridge safe consumption site citing fund mismanagement

Global News reached out to ARCHES again on Thursday to ask about continued services and the future of their 6 Avenue location, but the organization did not respond.

–With a file from The Canadian Press’ Lauren Krugel