City council discusses growing homeless encampments in Lethbridge

Click to play video: 'City council discusses growing encampments in Lethbridge'
City council discusses growing encampments in Lethbridge
A large portion of Tuesday’s council meeting was taken up by talks of a solution to the encampment issue in Lethbridge. Eloise Therien explains what progress council has made, and what still needs to be addressed. – Jul 27, 2022

Much of Tuesday’s city council meeting in Lethbridge was taken up by a topic of community concern: what to do about growing homeless encampments.

Earlier this month, following an influx of inquiries from community members, Lethbridge Mayor Blaine Hyggen brought forward a resolution that looked at addressing the issue.

“We need to understand the importance of being compassionate, we also need to understand the importance of having a safe community,” Hyggen expressed during the meeting.

After more than two hours of discussion around the council table, one out of four resolutions was passed by a 7-1 vote, while the other three were put on the back burner until a later date.

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Coun. Crowson was opposed to the motion.

The successful vote approves up to $230,000 toward assisting administrative and policing funding shortfalls — this motion essentially aims to enhance what the city is already doing.

This funding will assist in ongoing compassionate clean-up efforts, which involve several community organizations such as the safe community call centre, Clean Sweep Program and Diversion Outreach Team (DOT).

Click to play video: 'Man released from hospital after shooting in Lethbridge encampment: police'
Man released from hospital after shooting in Lethbridge encampment: police

Mayor Hyggen admitted this step may not heed the drastic results they’re hoping for, but a pivot was needed as what the city was currently doing “is not working.”

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Fox and Hyggen also made mention of the possibility of a “controlled” or “sanctioned” encampment.

“In the absence of housing or a better solution, I do believe a managed site would be better,” Fox said.

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“This would be an area that has similar services to a shelter, and so we would (have a) bag check or security check when people enter the area, making sure no illegal items are brought in.

“We would have 24/7 presence of people. There would be healthcare workers and people that could do outreach.”

Byron Bradley, who played a large role in trying to bring a sober shelter to Lethbridge with The Mustard Seed last year, is feeling for the community.

“It’s unfortunate that we did offer a tangible option for a sober shelter,” he said. “We spent a significant amount in finances from other cities and the community, and in the past year a lot could have been done.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, Fox said statistics currently show around 40 to 60 individuals could benefit from a sober shelter in Lethbridge.

“We still are committed to offering a solution to the city,” Bradley added.

Alpha House, which operates the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre, recently put up extra fencing outside its property which prevents tents from setting up around neighbouring businesses.

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Click to play video: 'Group bringing supportive housing to Blood Tribe Reserve'
Group bringing supportive housing to Blood Tribe Reserve

“Alpha House is just learning of the recent city council decision related to encampments in the city and
will be working to understand what this looks like in practice,” read a statement to Global News.

“We will be meeting with city representatives next week to learn more and identify opportunities to collaborate and advocate for the vulnerable population in Lethbridge. As always, Alpha House is focused on providing high-quality client care and supporting the community.

“We will continue to advocate for supportive housing options as a critical part of the long-term solution to encampments.”

What's next?

Three other components of Hyggen’s resolution were pushed to an upcoming special meeting, which has yet to be scheduled.

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Those include creating a local community task force and writing letters to provincial authorities to inquire about a working group to collaborate on medium and long-term housing and homelessness solutions.

The final resolution involved the potential allocation of up to $470,000 in one-time funding from Corporate Budget Contingencies for administration to move forward with more suitable solutions for encampment concerns that go above just encampment clean-up.

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