By Lethbridge Herald on October 19, 2023.
More weapons, more debris and more people seen in entrenched camps.
Those are among the matters heard in a verbal update to city council Tuesday on the City of Lethbridge’s encampment strategy.
Eric Foster, encampment support specialist who has been leading the City’s response, told council since the last update provided in September, there has been an increase in reports but this is anticipated to be short-lived due to cooler temperatures of the fall months and increased public awareness of the reporting process.
A week into the new reporting period, there has been a notable decrease in the number of reports, Foster said.
From Sept. 11 until noon of Oct. 13, the City had 130 encampment calls, bringing to 377 the number of calls to date this year.
For the reporting period, 167 calls were triaged with 92 being identified to be an encampment in alignment with Tier 1-3 parameters, Foster said.
The remaining 75 calls were for a variety of other matters such as debris or mess in a lane.
Five co-ordinated cleanups were done in the reporting period for a total of 23 for the year to date.
Fifty eight structures were removed for a total of 627 for the year and 3,450 kilograms of debris removed with 32,058 debris removed in total this year.
During the latest reporting period “we as a team received 215 reports that includes needle, biohazards, as well as encampments through 311 marking the year to date at 753,” Foster said.
Among trends that have been identified include more complaints on the northside, he said, which include encampments and debris. The team has noticed also debris around donation bins.
“The low level of entrenchment continues despite the increase in reports. We are noticing the compliance level is slowing slightly due to the cooler temperatures and the amount of debris is increasing as well as the number of people in each encampment,” he said.
The team isn’t sure if those numbers are weather-related or due to community conditions but it will be continued to be monitored, Foster added.
Nuisance fires are increasing which is expected as cooler temperatures occur, Foster said.
“The number of weapons that we are coming across as the encampment response team is increasing so that’s inclusive of knives, machetes and makeshift weapons, including items such as a whip,” Foster said.
During the past four-week period the response team has continued to work with the fire department on a co-ordinated approach to abandoned buildings with several meetings already staged and others that will be ongoing.
Two weeks ago the team assisted the LPS in making contact with occupants living in vehicles after getting some complaints and hearing information from partner agencies, Foster said.
These circumstances “seem to be centred around more so of economic hardship,” Foster told council.
He added the housing solutions co-ordinator has been engaging with shelter operations and the province on the expansion of the emergency shelter.
As transition to a winter response nears and needs change, there will be changes to contracted outreach service. The City’s contract with Streets Alive ends on Oct. 31 and an evaluation will be done on the Street Medicine pilot project conducted by the Blood Tribe Department of Health.
That evaluation will look at ways to support the vulnerable through winter.
The City says that project in September reported 172 instances of healthcare provided with 20 housing referrals made, 23 social services referrals and a total of 3,261 total encounters.