Lethbridge city council has approved a new strategy for responding to encampments, which includes hiring three full-time staff. Money for the plan was allocated at a council meeting on April 18 and city staff brought the strategy to council on May 16, where it was approved with only councillor Belinda Crowson opposed.
Up to $500,000 annually from 2023-2026 was approved In April, along with $250,000 in one-time funding to support the strategy. The money is to be used for two full-time encampment response positions, as well as one full-time housing specialist.
“It’s something that has to be one and I am so happy that council supported this new strategy, it’s not easy — it’s very complex. We have heard that quite often but if we don’t try to do something we are going to run into the same situations we have over the years,” said Mayor Blaine Hyggen. “There’s dollars that need to be put towards it, that’s not really easy sometimes for council to recommend but having the partners that are going to be involved, the police service, the other agencies, the social agencies that are around town that can help these individuals that are struggling in our community.”
Hyggen said this year is different from last because there is a collaborative approach. “I don’t know if it was as many agencies involved last year but we gave got them all at the table this year and I think that’s an important part to it and everybody’s, I guess if you say, singing from the same song book and we have sat down together and everybody is on that same page now.”
The money also includes Lethbridge Police Service overtime resources, contracted outreach services and other resources such as biohazard cleanup resources, training and personal protective equipment.
According to police, there have been six encampment cleanups in the city so far involving the Lethbridge Police Service this year.
“We have seen a large level of compliance, cleaning up several different locations across the city and moving people along to different supports and/or different locations as well,” said Sergeant Ryan Darroch with the downtown policing unit of the Lethbridge Police Service. “The main two points in my mind are public safety and not allowing these encampments to become entrenched anymore in the city and when we go to deal with them, just to have a coordinated response of support as well because some people do want help and that is a great chance to provide them with services.”
The strategy outlines a multi-step approach, which city administration says will help get resources to encampments in the most appropriate way, without a large response to each encampment.
“What we want to lead with is the outreach, we want to engage with those individuals, try to get them the supports they need and only when it’s an escalated situation do we need to bring in supports like Lethbridge Police Service,” said Andrew Malcolm, general manager of community and social development with the city. He added the city wants to be more proactive this year, rather than reactive like last summer.
Crowson voted against and said he would like to see more effort going to housing and long-term solutions.