Lethbridge will soon have a Community Wellbeing and Safety Task Force aimed at tackling social issues facing the city.
On Tuesday, city council unanimously approved the development of the task force, which is part of Phase 2 of Lethbridge’s Community Wellbeing and Safety Strategy (CWSS), a five-year plan adopted in 2019.
The move is being described by city staff as a collaborative approach to find Lethbridge-made solutions.
“The city can’t solve these issues on its own, so that brings in the collective impact model,” said Mike Fox, the city’s director of community services.
“It’s a community problem that needs a community solution.”
Mayor Chris Spearman said the community response has been overwhelming and hopes it’s a sign of the public’s willingness to get involved.
“If they can be a part of the solution — and many said they would like to — I think it will help build community understanding,” Spearman said.
The city’s 2020 Resident Satisfaction Survey ranked drugs and social issues as the issues with the biggest concern for Lethbridge residents, even ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The mayor said strides need to be taken to affect change about social issues in the city.
“The concern we have is Lethbridge is one of the few cities that isn’t addressing the issue, and we have one of the biggest problems,” he said.
In Phase 1 of the CWSS, concepts were applied internally to community social development strategies, committees and funding portfolios; the goal in Phase 2 is to apply those concepts community-wide.
The city will have a seat at the table, but Fox says an outside facilitator will start discussions and set the tone as the group evolves, making sure talks are positive and productive.
“There are going to be some difficult conversations. When you’re dealing with social issues, there’s always a multitude of opinions,” Fox said.
“But this group will move forward on a consensus base, and some of those recommendations will come back to city council because it will be things that the city can action.”
Fox said what the task force will look like is still to be seen, with the city not dictating size or structure.
“It might be a centralized group and then special interest groups feeding off of it. You know it could take on any form,” he said.
The hope is to start developing the task force as soon as possible, but in the meantime, the city will be working with community partners and stakeholders to establish two short-term working groups to address immediate needs.
The first will work to ensure that Lethbridge is prepared to effectively integrate social services into the city, and the second will aim its focus more specifically on public safety concerns.
Fox said while developing the task force, it will be a priority to represent as wide a range as possible from within the community.
Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee co-chair Treena Tallow said she’s been impressed by talks with the city so far.
“I really like the leadership and governance component,” she said. “It allows for Indigenous voices, it allows for reunification and in some cases, decolonizing approaches, so removing some of the barriers that Indigenous people face.”
Tallow said making sure Indigenous perspectives are part of the CWSS conversations will be key.
“It’s crucially important that Lethbridge work towards an inclusive strategy that includes Indigenous voices,” she said.
“You can’t support people and exclude them at the same time.”
The city said anyone who’s interested in getting involved is encouraged to contact the city.