By Kalinowski, Tim on January 31, 2020.
After undertaking a fiscal review of the project, the provincial government has confirmed its support for a new $11-million 42-unit permanent, supportive-housing facility to begin construction in Lethbridge in 2021.
At a special announcement held at city hall Thursday, Seniors and Housing Minister Josephine Pon, accompanied by cabinet colleagues Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney and Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson, said work was underway to begin finding a site for the facility, which will house some of the city’s most vulnerable.
“Our government is so pleased, in partnership with Canada Mortgage and Housing, to have invested $11 million in capital to support 42 new units for permanent, supportive housing in Lethbridge,” stated Pon. “We are working so hard to pick the best location for this project, and to make sure it is accessible for all those people at risk.”
Wilson put what such a facility would mean for Lethbridge’s Indigenous peoples, which make up about 73 per cent of the city’s homeless, in his comments. Quoting Indigenous scholar Jesse Thistle, Wilson said homelessness, to Indigenous peoples, means the “loss of all their relations,” including with family, friends, community, culture and ties to Mother Earth. He hoped the new facility would help restore those ties which have been lost.
“It is critical that facilities like this one announced today offer culturally appropriate supports to help stem the tide of the over-representation of Indigenous people experiencing homelessness,” he said. “I cannot thank the municipality of Lethbridge enough for being at the forefront to reduce and prevent this social scourge.”
Mayor Chris Spearman hoped the announcement would be the beginning of a strong, new collaboration with the province on other aspects of the city’s ongoing drug crisis.
“It has been one of the happiest days I’ve had since I’ve been the mayor,” said Spearman. “It’s great to see the confirmation of the funding coming forward, and it’s wonderful to see the City of Lethbridge will move forward and make progress on another pillar in the war on drugs.”
Spearman acknowledged siting the new facility would be the next challenge, and more work will be done on that front, in collaboration with the province, in the weeks and months to come.
“We will certainly work to identify a site with the provincial government, and make sure that this housing is provided in way that doesn’t disrupt the community,” he said.
MLA for Lethbridge-East Nathan Neudorf said the announcement on Thursday was the culmination of years of hard work, and a great day for all Lethbridge residents regardless of political affiliation.
“There are some issues MLA Phillips and myself agree on,” he stated, referring to his NDP counterpart in Lethbridge-West. “This is one of them. This is something, I think, the community has known is a vital part of how we address homelessness and those with addictions. Every once in awhile, it is nice when all of government pulls together in the same direction for something that is needed in the community. It’s a great celebration to see that happen here in Lethbridge today.”
Phillips, for her part, reminded Lethbridge residents this funding had originally been announced in 2018 by her government, and she felt the Kenney government should have had construction underway already to fulfil this critical need in the community instead of playing politics with vulnerable peoples’ lives.
“People have to wait that much longer because Jason Kenney had to indulge his ego,” she said. “That facility is part of a package. It’s a really important piece; so I don’t want to downplay the fact that the City actually got through to this UCP government on this one piece. But expanded detox is also another piece. Ensuring we have RN-supervised intox is another piece. Again, another piece is ongoing mental health and addictions funding. And another piece is just the simple, primary care health-care system.”
She also stressed the need for added funding for income support and more investment in the local housing authority by unfreezing funds for the mortgage supplement program, which is also paused and currently under review by the UCP government.
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