By Lethbridge Herald on February 19, 2021.
A group of business owners are expressing their concerns with a proposed new emergency sober shelter at the old Western One building at 110 13th Street South.
“This business community on the upper eastside over the last couple of years has gone through the Supervised Consumption Site, and the amount of traffic of at-risk individuals have gone through that business community,” says Richard Daley, owner of Earl’s Lethbridge and a member of the group.
“In our particular case, we have had panhandling at the front door in the parking lot, we have had the use of washrooms (from people off the street), the typical needle and other drug debris, bodily fluids outside, drug consumption in our washrooms, and that is with an (SCS) that was probably 1,000 metres from our location. The logic would tell us if we bring that at-risk group within 200 metres of our facility that those same issues and problems will be there, and probably be greatly exemplified.”
Daley acknowledges there is a need in the community to bring resources online to help Lethbridge’s homeless community, but does not feel the Western One site is the proper location.
“I believe there is a solution,” he says.
“I believe the solution began to be adopted, from my understanding, many years ago when under the guidance of Mayor Carpenter a directive was more or less put in place that an area known as city centre north is an area where there is no residential of any nature …
“The City actually controls the vast majority of that plot of land, and therefore would have a greater degree of control in terms of access and what takes place. The facilities are already there.”
“If we are really serious about dealing with this problem then you need all the facilities, similar to a hospital, all in one site,” Daley adds. “You have everything centralized so you use all of your resources in a concise, direct and well-thought out manner. To put another shelter on the other side of the downtown area, that’s not a well-thought out strategy.”
Daley says he also has problems with the way the organization proposing to open the site, The Mustard Seed, has consulted with local business owners.
“I have a real problem with the fact The Mustard Seed’s representatives entered my business, and gave us a glossy piece of paper that indicated they were proposing a sober shelter,” he explains. “At no point in time did they acknowledge to us that the site was also going to be a soup kitchen, a food bank, a resource centre, a drop-in centre … It is my strong belief The Mustard Seed, for their intentions, is not being completely honest.”
Mustard Seed managing director for Southern Alberta and Lethbridge, Byron Bradley, says his organization has been meeting with local businesses in the area for the past two months, including Earl’s, and has been explaining their plans openly and transparently to everyone they meet with.
“We are not opening up a food bank,” he states. “This a 24/7 sober shelter that will serve meals. We have been very clear and very honest with the community about merging with the Lethbridge Soup Kitchen– that has been out there for quite some time.”
Bradley says while he has not met directly with Earl’s owner Richard Daley yet, having instead spoken with his manager Ryan Daley — he is more than willing to meet with the family again, and any other business owners in the group, to explain what his organization hopes to do at the proposed shelter. He characterizes the meetings he has had with business owners over the past two months as largely “positive” overall.
“We are receiving actually a fairly open-minded conversation overall,” he explains. “There are some who ask some hard questions and are definitely anxious, which is understandable from the history in the community, but people are generally open-minded and optimistic, I have found.”
Bradley says his organization is responding to a recognized need in the community by opening the proposed sober shelter in Lethbridge.
“Lethbridge has, right now, the highest (shelter usage) numbers in the entire province,” Bradley explains. “We are seeing numbers across the province in some cities stabilize, but in most cities the numbers are actually going down. Lethbridge is the only shelter where the numbers are continually going up — way above capacity — over 180 per cent capacity. The City of Lethbridge should be very concerned for its vulnerable citizens. They do not have the space required, and the most vulnerable are crammed in like a can of sardines.
“And if someone is not using substances, or is trying to fight for sobriety, there is not a place to go for that day or night. That’s what The Mustard Seed wants to bring: a place to be day and night, and a place of refuge and safety.”
Daley says he has no argument with the fact these services are needed in the community. It is the proposed location he, and other members of his business group, object to.
“We all understand and agree there is a need,” Daley states. “We have social issues, and as a community and business community we need to address those. That is the first given: there is a problem, there is a need, and it needs to be addressed. Where we have an issue is in the methodology and the strategic thinking on how to address it.
“In this case, we see no methodology and we see no strategic thinking. We know, for instance, The Mustard Seed’s original (proposed) site was the old Average Joe’s restaurant and bar in downtown Lethbridge, which was a permitted, designated use within the bylaws, and that was quashed. We see the only reason this site has been chosen is that it is available. ’It’s available’ is not a strategic plan to deal with an incredibly large social issue. ’It’s available’ is a complete and total lack of a plan.”
Daley says as this rezoning application process goes forward he hopes city council remembers the taxpayers they were elected to serve when making their considerations.
“We as a small business community,” he states, “and particularly the small businesses on Mayor Magrath as well as on the upper eastside, are in an absolute struggle for our very existence because of the pandemic and the economic conditions we have been forcibly put into. We need government to do what is possible to help guide the survival of the business community and the tax base in the community. Not to go out there helter skelter and throw major obstacles with no strategic plan in our face.”