Lethbridge city council approved up to $230,000 to assist city administration and Lethbridge police to expedite “compassionate clean-up” of encampments over the next three to four months.
The funds were part of a four-part motion brought forward by Mayor Blaine Hyggen at council’s July 26 meeting. He also looked to allocate up to $470,000 to move forward with other solutions, but council referred this item back to staff because many councillors did not feel there was enough information on budgeting and planning. This, along with a motion to create a community task force and advocate for a provincial and city working group, will be brought back to council at a special meeting, with a date not yet determined.
Only Councillor Belinda Crowson was opposed to allocating the funds. “While I would love to support more outreach, taking away people’s homes, especially when we don’t have any place else to send them is not something I can support at this time,” she said.
The $230,000 will be used to do more frequent encampment cleanups, according to Mike Fox, director of community services. A budget presented to council shows $110,000 of the funds allocated for Lethbridge police and private security.
“We do have bylaws for our parks, but it’s the resources to get people out there as quickly as we need them to get out there and work with these encampments and pull these encampments down,” Hyggen said. “I spoke with another business that is just close by the area and they haven’t had a break-in in over seven years and they had a break in and they asked the person where they are from and he says that he resides at Civic Park. He broke in, took a bag of Twinkies and a bag of chips.”
The budget also includes $30,000 for fencing and signs. Fox said signs will make people aware of bylaws, which the city plans to enforce to clean up encampments. “There are some areas where if we put up fencing on city land or in parks it may lessen the activity in those locations” he said.
Councillor Ryan Parker questioned if the city can use court injunctions to remove encampments. City Solicitor Brian Loewen said the city manager could seek an injunction, without approval of council and Fox added money for that, if it is pursued, would come out of the $230,000.
“I think we have to say no, this isn’t going to be tolerated in the community and some people will say people have all the right to do it and I don’t think it should be allowed, not in public places and not in public parks,” Parker said. “The $230,000 will help clean up that area, give the people in the surrounding neighbourhood some reassurance and then if the encampment goes somewhere else, there’s funds there to help it get cleaned up as well.”
Councillor Jeff Carlson said removing encampments only results in people being moved round the city, but ended up voting in favour of the funds in the end.
“$700,00 for a temporary, band aid solution, I think could buy a lot of spaces, even if they are temporary spaces, apartments, hotels,” Carlson said. “I was of the opinion that this was a holistic motion because going in and having even a compassionate cleanup doesn’t solve any issues, unless you have some place to put people. It just moves the issue to a different area.”
The additional $470,000 to be discussed later would be used to create a space where people could camp, with resources available, according to Fox. He said the city is looking at using space behind the existing shelter. The area would have controlled access, with security and Fox said no illegal items would be allowed to be brought in.
“We cannot say that people would actually use this site for sure, what we can say is that we would try and provide a safe area for people seeking shelter,” Fox said.
The city plans on tearing down the encampment at Civic Park again this Thursday, according to Fox. He said the last one resulted in removal of 5,670 kg of refuse and also 282 needles.