Thursday, June 23, 2022

‘A mat on the floor is not how we restore human dignity’: MLA Phillips pushing for solutions on homelessness

- Advertisement -

Lethbridge West MLA Shannon Phillips says the amount of people living in tents outside the Lethbridge Stabilization Centre and Shelter represents a profound failure in housing policy and the municipal, federal and provincial governments are failing to take responsibility for the problem.

“As I understand it, there’s 42 units of permanent supportive housing that have been actually funded and that are awaiting zoning from the municipality,” she says. “So right there we know we have a number of competing crises, overlapping crises in terms of healthcare and addictions and access to the appropriate supply of housing for people.”

The 42 units were funded by the province just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but are making little progress. According to the city, it is a provincial project and the next steps are a request for proposal, which has not been posted and there is no confirmed location for the housing. 

“Once all those beds are open, that will make a significant impact on what we see right now,” says Lethbridge East MLA Nathan Neudorf. “We have requested some more funds. We have requested help with transportation. Many of this homeless community have homes in other jurisdictions, they just don’t have the vehicle to get there so we are looking at that.”

- Advertisement -   Article continues below ad

READ MORE: Encampment teardowns continue outside Lethbridge shelter

Neudorf says he works with the city and meets with business owners near the shelter to come up with solutions. “Some of it is the dollars catching up to the problem — the dollars already been invested. Some of it is continuing initiatives to help meet the specific needs of those individuals and the businesses around there.”

READ MORE: ‘We can do better’: some residents question handling of homeless encampments

Phillips says the city and the province are not doing enough to work together towards long-term solutions and fail to focus on the complexity and the need for many social services.

- Advertisement -   Article continues below ad

“We do need an expansion of shelter services, but we also need an expansion of transitional housing because a mat not the floor is not how we restore human dignity and that’s not how people should be treated in our society,” she says. ”We have a multi-layered, tough, complex situation but it starts with a provincial government whose foundational responsibility is housing, healthcare and social services, essentially being an absent partner at the table.”

She says there needs to be transitional supports so people can start on a path of stable housing and income. “All of that is broken in Lethbridge, all we have is the mat on the floor. That’s it and only in one place. So we do need to put the other pieces of the puzzle into place. If we don’t, we will just see more tents and more human suffering.”

Marie Renault, NDP Critic for community and social services says adequate support is about meeting people where they are, but the United Conservative Party government tends to focus on recovery centres as the main service.

“If you remove pieces that should be a continuum, then you are going to have people falling through the gaps,” she says. “People are dying of drug poisoning the last year in record numbers and still the UCP is focused on one method of service delivery, when we know Albertans are as diverse and complex as you can imagine.”

- Advertisement -   Article continues below ad

Mayor Blaine Hyggen says the biggest barrier to helping the homeless population is funding, but Phillips says there are things the city could do, starting with zoning for the already funded 42 permanent supportive housing units.

BACKGROUND: Funding biggest barrier for helping homeless population: Mayor Hyggen

“Everybody has a role to play and if the city’s only role is zoning and they can’t do that, we have a problem,” she says. She adds all levels of government are responsible for the issue, but right now it seems like nobody is taking on the responsibility. “It’s complex, that’s why you need to get to work because if you are not doing anything at all, complexity is going to get worse and you are going to descend into crisis.”

READ MORE: New survey finds social issues among top concerns of Lethbridge residents

Phillips and Renault had a tour of the Lethbridge Stabilization Centre and Shelter this week, where they heard there is no overall plan guiding the teardowns of encampments outside the facility, according to Phillips. “The fact that the provincial government and by extension also the city, are not working in tandem to have an actual strategy is shocking to me,” she says.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Now playing play

Now playing play

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -