By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on February 21, 2020.
Last month, I was delighted to be able to present the Chamber of Commerce State of the City address. This is an event I look forward to every year as it allows me some time to reflect on the achievements, challenges and priorities of city council from the previous year. It also provides a look ahead to what is coming over the next 12 months and some of the opportunities and developments taking place.
Some of those opportunities include our Municipal Housing Strategy. Safe, secure and affordable housing is a top issue across Canada. Safe and secure housing was identified as a priority within city council’s 2017-2021 Strategic Plan.
To accomplish this goal council defined three actions:
– Review housing needs and create a municipal housing strategy;
– Establish an integrated approach to helping people with their housing and their specific social needs;
– Identify municipal housing needs and facilitate proposals that satisfy gaps in the city’s housing market;
– A municipal housing needs assessment and strategy has been completed and approved by council.
Addressing the housing issues in Lethbridge is a shared responsibility and depends on the collaborative efforts of all housing partners including the City, provincial and federal government, developers, builders, landlords and property managers in the private and non-market sectors.
City council gave the green light to the proposed Municipal Housing Strategy Implementation Plan which outlines 51 action items. These action items range from reviewing land-use bylaws to identifying opportunities to support the development of affordable and supportive housing.
This plan has been community-led and developed with engagement from many areas of the community. I am hopeful that we will see support and enthusiasm from our residents as this work is carried out. With the recent funding support and investment from the provincial government of $11 million, we’re so pleased to see action is now being taken on providing 42 new supported-housing units for those in need.
We are extremely thankful to the Alberta government for placing a priority on affordable housing for Lethbridge residents who need it. We can now begin to move forward in a tangible way while addressing the serious social issues in our city.
We’re now looking to the private sector to partner in making more of these opportunities available for the vulnerable members of our community. Recently, the Community Issues Committee was provided with an update by the Lethbridge Police Commission as to the work their Police and Crisis Team (PACT) do and who they service in our community.
The team of two people, one police constable and one Alberta Health Services (AHS) mental-health professional, work together to stabilize individuals experiencing addictions and/or mental-health issues by referring them to appropriate resources in the community. This includes connecting individuals to various housing and financial services when needed, providing consultation with various community agencies, AHS services and monitoring individuals for short-term duration until they have connected with appropriate services.
According to PACT, in December of last year, they were working with 171 clients who needed access to many of these services and more. Safe and secure housing plays an important role in the recovery process and while the development of the 42 supported housing units is a fantastic first step, many more units need to be developed in order to effectively tackle the needs of some in our community.
Next week I will be attending the provincial budget announcement in Edmonton. We believe this announcement will be one of austerity and are keenly waiting the details of how the restraint of the provincial purse-strings will be felt here in Lethbridge. I’d like to assure our residents that city council is committed to fiscal responsibility which is why we’ve undertaken initiatives like the operational reviews of the City as an organization.
What is becoming apparent with the provincial austerity measures is that as a city, we need to be prepared and proactive in coming up with solutions to solve our own problems with our own means. This may mean forging new partnerships within our own region, the not-for-profit sector working with the private sector and putting a new lens on how we do business.
One example of great partnership is the work being done by the Blood Tribe in offering their newly launched transit service between Standoff and Lethbridge. The work done to develop this commuter route involved many parties including Red Crow College and the City’s Transit department. These types of initiatives make life better for those who live here and visit our city and were developed by working together and innovative thinking.
Lastly, I wanted to leave you with the message I was happy to share with those who attended the Chamber’s State of the City event. It is a message of spreading positivity in our city. Negativity has a habit of finding its way to the top of your social media feed. It gets bigger and louder, and the more attention it gets, the more misconstrued it seems to get. It takes on a form that can sometimes be unrecognizable from what it originally started as.
I’d love to see the good in the world be as loud and as vivid as some of the hate we see. We have a lot of great things happening in our city and much to be proud of. I regularly hear compliments from visitors and distinguished guests. As a city council, we will continue to advocate for the supports our city needs. We will also commit resources to address social issues in the areas that are municipal responsibilities.
Let’s balance the negativity by celebrating all that has been accomplished and all that is good about our city. Let’s focus on unity and elevate YQL We are brighter together.
Chris Spearman is the mayor of Lethbridge. His column appears monthly.