May 21st, 2024

Illegal camps a concern for City

By Lethbridge Herald on September 22, 2020.

A vacant makeshift shelter houses belongings in an entryway of an unoccupied downtown office building. The City says it has been dealing with a noticeable increase in illegal encampments and "rough sleeping" since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March. Herald file photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski
Lethbridge Herald
The City has been dealing with a noticeable increase in illegal encampments and “rough sleeping” since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March.
“We have been dealing with encampments for a couple of years now, and we have seen a spike over the last four months since COVID-19,” confirms City of Lethbridge Urban Revitalization manager Andrew Malcolm. “We have been tracking them to see if there is any reason why. We believe it’s largely attributed to the fact the places they may have been staying before now have additional restrictions in place, and this may deter them as another barrier. But also, like for you and me, space is very important, and the fact we have had nice weather, has just given the vulnerable population more reasons to stay and sleep outside.”
Malcolm says the City has responded by allocating more funds from money set aside to fund programs within the budget of the Downtown Clean and Safe Strategy to deal with the rise in encampments, and has removed about 100 temporary structures since March.
“And it’s not just encampments,” he says. “That’s typically what we refer to as structured living. We are seeing lots of rough sleeping, which is basically someone sleeping in a sleeping bag or just laying on the ground. Often we get calls for encampments, and it is really just someone who is rough sleeping.”
With encampments, the City has something it can remove. With rough sleeping it’s a different story, Malcolm says.
“Within our encampment program, that’s a place to take down structures so we don’t end up with a tent city-type of situation in Lethbridge,” he explains.
“But rough sleeping is really difficult because there is nothing to take away — it’s just their personal belongings. So we are using a combination of outreach and physical cleaning up and movement in trying to deal with that dynamic.”
The process right now, says Malcolm, is when someone calls into the Safe Community Call Centre to report an encampment a Diversion Outreach Team (DOT) is dispatched to investigate the situation and tries to render assistance to the person they find to offer them transport to the City’s homeless shelter or to have them move on from where they are. If there is a structure, DOT then calls in either a local contractor to deal with it, or the Clean Sweep Team to clean up debris left behind during rough sleeping.
“Really our encampment program and our Diversion Outreach Team isn’t even a Band-Aid solution; it is just a Band-Aid program,” states Malcolm. “We are just trying to stay on top of it, and the first thing we want to do is give these people the services that they need. And the second thing is we want to try to avoid having a tent city, because as we have seen at municipalities across Canada and the U.S., is these things kind of build up their own steam getting too big and unmanageable. They actually then create a living condition that is very poor — both for those living in the encampment as well as the business community and our public that have to be around it.”
With winter coming on the problem of encampments and rough sleeping will likely lessen, says Malcolm, but that does not mean there will not be other problems to watch out for when the cold weather arrives. Noting that Alpha House has imposed enhanced screening and strong social distancing rules at the Lethbridge Homeless Shelter which some in the local homeless community do not like, Malcolm says Lethbridge law enforcement and City officials are expecting an increase in break-ins into vacant buildings this winter as the rough sleepers seek out alternative shelter options.
“We want to try to get ahead of that and think about solutions,” he says. “Landowners and business owners who have vacant buildings should be checking on them regularly. That is, unfortunately, just one of the many things we have to deal with in our community right now until we get those (housing) supports in place.”
Malcolm says the only real long-term solution to the problem is more supportive housing in the city. Marty Thomson, the City’s manager of Community and Social Development, agrees.
“For the most part, the people who are in encampments are homeless people,” Thomson explains. “But it’s not just that they are homeless; the vast majority of them have mental illness, addictions, physical illness and cognitive issues such as FASD and other forms of brain damage. So we need to house them, but with supports. In other words, permanent supportive housing. It’s not just as easy as putting them into an apartment. We need special facilities.”
The Safe Community Call Centre number is 403-382-0545.
Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter

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Dennis Bremner

Re: illegal encampments Andrew Malcolm says. “We have been tracking them to see if there is any reason why.”
We all know the reason, but it appears “we” do not want to say it out loud. If you want the forecast, I said last spring that Galt Gardens would be a DTES Vancouver camp site by this summer. “and so it begins”. The reason is very very simple and I can understand why Andrew Malcolm does not say it, so I will.
1) We had an NDP Government and Rep (Phillips and Fitxpatrick) who had no idea what an SCS was, or how one was run but still gave “license and funding to install one”.
2) We had a Mayor and Council who also had no idea what an SCS was or what it should do, and would do to the downtown, if some facsimile of a SCS was installed there. In fact Mr Mayor pronounced that the integration of the SCS into the downtown would compliment the area, which told all of us, how much he knew about SCSs or the difference between an SCS and a Fix Room.
3) We had a Mayor who decided to announce to surrounding communities that Lethbridge “might become” the Southern Alberta Rehab. Which of course gave license to numerous do-gooders to truck people in from as far away as Medicine Hat who had been denied an SCS by the UCP
4) We had an SCS Director and Board that does not know the difference between a Fix Room and an SCS and so created a Fix Room.
5) We had a gullible Council who bent to the “People are dying Now” and believed putting in Pillar 1 was far more important than waiting for other levels of Government installing 2 thru 4 first. We had a Council that had they done any research would have found that installing Pillar 1 gives unwritten License for “other levels of Government” to procrastinate on the other pillars.
6) We had a rather amazing combination of clueless provincial reps coupled with a panic’d Mayor and Council. The result? A mass accumulation of addicts to Lethbridge because you can carry illegal drugs here. An SCS shutdown for no accountability, unbelievable numbers, and a missing $1.6million. A massive growth of Drug Houses and for every one shutdown, more Galt Garden illegal encampments appear.
Suddenly “we are not sure why”? Well perhaps the City is unsure why but I can assure you the Residents know exactly why”!!
If anyone suggests it had to be in Lethbridge, remind them that ZONING stops Strip Clubs in certain areas….ZONING would have stopped SCS/Fix Rooms in Certain Areas and could have been installed on the outskirts of town and still satisfied the Federal/Provincial Mandate of “servicing the area”. Zoning is Council responsibility.
A Farcical Fiasco of Epic Proportions and you don’t know why? Almost too funny!

Last edited 3 years ago by Dennis Bremner
Dennis Bremner

What the residents need is someone that understands there are divider lines when using the term “Homeless”. Mr Mayor attempted to blur those lines by including Bourgues Drug addicts so that sympathy levels would rise.
This City has to realize one of two things. Some people are homeless because of bad luck or mental issues and to those people you will find a concerned Lethbridge. You then have another group who rob, mug, B&E there way through life because they want too or have too to satisfy a drug habit. If this City cannot determine the differences, then its time we decided to change who runs this city!
It appears that some can identify FASD brain damage etc etc but if he/she is drug addict as well, then society should wait till this brain damaged person decides to rehab? Am I the only person here that thinks this Planet has no clue what they are doing?
Lets start by providing the true homeless a place to reside. Lets start by studying a persons criminal record and if that person has fed off the residents of Lethbridge through B&E, thefts and muggings, then I think you should tell that person he gets help from the city after demonstrating he is not a leach on the city and its residents.
What this city is doing is facilitating the destruction of the truly deserving homeless by catering to all groups as if they are equal, they are not! I have talked to two homeless people who have to “time” their appearance at the soup kitchen because the drug addicts beat them up and steal anything they have accumulated by selling bottles. Is that the Lethbridge this City wants?
Start separating these groups, because I can assure you if you do not the Residents will start separating some City appointees from their Jobs!