Streets Alive Mission is seeing more and more people using its services in Lethbridge.
Director of operations Cameron Kissick says while that’s normal when the temperature begins to dip, what’s unusual is that the increase has been consistent over the past year.
“Overall, you’re just starting to see a higher number of people requiring these services that maybe you didn’t see before,” Kissick said.
The mission’s outreach team is also seeing more people around the city in a vulnerable state.
Kissick says some of it may be due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing hardship, but he believes the main factor is the opioid crisis.
“It’s bad and you can see it.
“People are seeing it more and more because it’s getting worse and worse,” Kissick said. “We need to find a way to really tackle the drug problem that we have.”
Earlier this year, a resolution put forward by Moms Stop the Harm Lethbridge was turned away by the city’s community safety standing policy committee.
The resolutions asked city council to write the federal government, voicing support for the declaration of a public emergency over the opioid crisis, the decriminalization of drugs for personal use and the implementation of safe supply in Canada.
Lori Vrebosch of MSTH hopes the new city council will prioritize harm reduction strategies to curb drug overdoses in Lethbridge.
“It’s the policies that are killing people. It’s not necessarily the toxicity of the drugs,” Vrebosch said.
“The overdoses can be prevented if we have policies that support harm reduction and other supports like supervised consumption sites.
“It’s a health epidemic. Right now, we’re facing not one but two health crises.”
The ARCHES consumption site closed its doors in August 2020.
“There’s no easy answer,” outgoing Mayor Chris Spearman said.
“No matter where you decide to put (these supports), there will be people who will be vocal and people who will object,” he said.
“These kinds of discussions are going on in other mid-sized cities throughout the province, and the challenge is mid-sized cities like Lethbridge and other similar cities have these significant social problems and don’t have the resources locally to deal with them.”
Through the first seven months of 2021, there were 30 opioid-related deaths in Lethbridge, according to the latest Alberta Opioid Surveillance Response Report.