Lethbridge city council voted to look into establishing a temporary sober shelter at the Civic Centre curling rink. The decision was made at a special council meeting on Aug. 9, where council was expected to discuss allocating $470,000 for solutions to the ongoing encampment issue. No funds were allocated at the meeting and city administration was authorized to proceed with steps to apply for a development approval for the temporary shelter.
The site is currently being used for storage, according to Mike Fox, director of community services. He said part of the next steps is looking at necessary renovations and getting an agreement with the province for operating funds.
He said it is not likely to be operational until November and it will have to come back to council in the fall before being finalized. The motion carried with a 6-2 vote — councillor Rajko Dodic was absent.
“It’s one foot in front of the other as far as this goes,” said Councillor Jenn Schmidt-Rempel. “We are not in an ideal situation — there is no perfect solution and it’s very difficult to make these decision because we have to take our entire community and finding a space for everybody in this community to belong. This is one of those steps.”
Councillors Ryan Parker and John Middleton-Hope were opposed. Parker said he believed the city is not taking enough risks in enforcing its own bylaws after city administration pointed to cases in B.C. where municipalities have been challenged under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when evicting people experiencing homelessness from parks.
“We have trespassing occurring on a daily basis — even though you put up the signs, there is no enforcement occurring. I think some people are believing that we don’t have the right. I think we are not doing our full service in implementing our trespassing bylaw, cleaning up the area,” Parker said.
Parker said he recognizes people need shelter, but he would rather invest in police to enforce laws and into the existing shelter than create a new temporary one.
“I just don’t think what’s occurring right now, the tent city, is an appropriate location and by empowering and allowing that Civic Centre to go as an interim I think it’s going to become a ghetto straight up, it’s going to become a ghetto,” he said.
Arvin White Cow, who is homeless in Lethbridge, said November is too long for a solution. He said people are faced with extreme heat right now, and by then will be freezing.
“We have a situation in this city. We need affordable housing. In the last election they shared with all of us — we are going to get, the mayor said and councilors said we would get affordable housing. Guess what — where’s my home?” he said. “I have no disrespect to the city. I have respect for the province and the federal government, but guess what? These services in Lethbridge are inadequate.”
White Cow said he knows the city and the province are working on helping people, but people are faced with challenges that do not wait until November, including finding shelter, lacking public washrooms and finding enough to eat.
“I think they just want us to dehydrate or starve, then we’ll be dead and we are not a burden on provincial government. That’s what Arvin believes,” he said.
Fox said an agreement with the province is moving forward to provide transitional housing int the city, but he is not sure where it will be or how many beds. He said the program is likely to be running in September.
The temporary sober shelter will come back to council once city staff have done more research and a community consultation process will take place, Schmidt-Rempel said.