City of Lethbridge addresses confusion over emergency shelter ‘shut down’

Click to play video: 'City of Lethbridge addresses confusion over emergency shelter ‘shut down’'
City of Lethbridge addresses confusion over emergency shelter ‘shut down’
The City of Lethbridge received some public backlash on Thursday, after reports it had such down an emergency shelter organized by community groups. As Eloise Therien explains, there was a miscommunication, and the city is working to address the needs of the vulnerable population. – Jan 6, 2022

Lethbridge officials were caught in a storm of social media backlash on Thursday following a post alleging the closure of an emergency shelter in the city’s south, which they say is untrue.

The Sage Clan Patrol, a non-profit outreach organization, took to Instagram writing: “The City of Lethbridge is shutting down our emergency shelter. We need your help.”

They also asked for donations of backpacks and other items to be brought to the space, located at the Sik-Ooh-Kotoki Friendship Society building at 1709 2 Ave S.

The centre opened its doors to help the unhoused population more than a week ago, using funding from Blood Tribe Chief and Council to use the space as a warming centre during the current prolonged deep freeze.

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Despite Sage Clan’s post, the city confirmed it did not shut down the centre when speaking to media Thursday.

“We are reaching out to see where the comments originated from and why they were (made), but the city did not close down the warming shelter,” said director of community services Mike Fox.

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Global News reached out to Sage Clan for an interview, but was told they would not be commenting on the situation at this time.

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Fox applauded Sage Clan’s efforts in supporting the community, and added the city is working with them and other organizations such as the Diversion Outreach Team to help individuals in their transition to the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre.

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This was never intended as a permanent location, he added.

“When they opened the warming centre, it was supposed to be open for a two-week period and that period comes to a close on the Tuesday coming up,” Fox explained.

Mayor Blaine Hyggen told the media he and other members of council had received numerous phone calls, emails, and comments on social media regarding the miscommunication.

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Lethbridge shelters ready for cold snap amid holiday season

“I have spent time at the warming centre recently and I commend the Friendship Society for all the work they have done,” said Hyggen. “The community has really come together to make sure folks are looked after and their needs are met.”

When asked if this situation highlighted the need for more spaces to accommodate the vulnerable population and advance planning for extreme weather events, Hyggen said “there is space” at the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre to accommodate those who need it.

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“We want to make sure we’re doing all we can to support those in need,” Hyggen added.

Alpha House, the provincially-funded organization who operates the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre, said it always supports the creation of options for unhoused individuals, especially in the cold weather.

“We will continue to work with our partners in the sector to ensure those that need shelter are able to access it,” executive director Kathy Christiansen said in a release.

“Demand at the shelter has been high, but we have not turned anyone away and we will continue to ensure anyone who wants to stay is able to safely do so.”

Bill Ginther, executive director at the adjacent Lethbridge Soup Kitchen, said it’s difficult to witness people out in the cold. He added they may be hesitant to seek shelter due to being in active drug addiction or not wanting to leave their belongings.

“I think it’s important to know some people will always stay outside, there’s no question they will,” he said.

While supportive of the idea to have the warming centre, Ginther said its location didn’t allow clients to access the soup kitchen’s services as usual.

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“From my perspective, having visited there once, they had inadequate planning for meals. They had no meals,” he said. “We saw our numbers go down from well over 100 to 50 or 60 because it’s too far to walk.”

Lethbridge is expected to reach above freezing temperatures by early next week.

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