July 17th, 2024

City preparing to help the vulnerable deal with winter’s extremes

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on October 26, 2023.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

The City of Lethbridge is preparing for the impact cold weather has upon the vulnerable population here and expects to be in better shape than in previous years.

Andrew Malcolm, general manager of Community Social Development and Luke Palmer, the City’s Emergency Planning and Risk Supervisor, gave media an update Wednesday afternoon with winter’s temperatures hitting already.

“We’re as concerned as everybody,” Malcolm said at City Hall.

“We’ve heard from the community, especially with the first snowfall that there are concerns around what the City and our partners are doing to support the vulnerable population,” he said, adding the City is working with its partners to ensure it’s in a better position this winter than in the past.

“That goes back to work that started in the spring,” Malcolm said, pointing out city council’s directive in January to administration to prepare a shelter strategy. Administration proceeded to develop it and brought it back to council in June for their approval.

“Part of that was to undertake a rezoning of the existing shelter site to remove some barriers for expansion and that was approved in July. Since that time, the government of Alberta, as the operational funder of shelter spaces, Blood Tribe Department of Health as our current operator and the City of Lethbridge who own the building and the land, have been engaged in conversations and those are at a very advanced stage,” said Malcolm, adding the City looks forward to providing more details to the community in the coming weeks.

“Beyond that we continue to work with our partners in the community on servicing and providing services to the vulnerable population that are out there,” added Malcolm.

Many of the City’s social partners have their own spaces and programs that the vulnerable population can access, Malcolm said.

“We just encourage all those vulnerable population individuals in our community and the service providers” to continue making the connections they do on a daily basis, he added.

The shelter is open and operational, and the City encourages everyone to go to that site with the Blood Tribe Department of Health doing everything it can to support those individuals.

The shelter has a capacity of just under 100 but the fire capacity is greater than that, said Malcolm and the Blood Tribe Department of Health will accommodate up to that capacity, which is supported by the province.

The YWCA and Woods Homes will also provide different levels of support, he said.

A big piece of the upcoming winter is that the province recommitted $1 million in operation funding for shelter. He said separately from that the City overseas federal Reaching Home funds which are also targeted toward homeless populations, albeit not for shelter operations.

Administration is proposing the City spend up to $230,000 of that federal money for a drop-in centre function, which in a perfect world would be leveraged with the shelter operation here, said Malcolm. Details on that are still being finalized.

“We have to be careful that the federal funding and the provincial funding don’t overstep their mandates,” he said.

Palmer told media that since 2020 the City’s had an extreme temperature response plan that has been activated numerous times in the summer and winter, including twice in the past summer. This essentially means a call to the community to open facilities to individuals, whether the vulnerable or other groups.

“We’re trying to make sure that anyone that’s out in the elements has the ability to get reprieve. This plan basically communicates to our user groups” to see what kind of connections can be made but also activate procedures that might be able to assist, he said.

In winter, an emergency situation in Alberta is defined as temperatures of -40C plus windchill of two hours or more.

“When you look at that, that’s actually quite drastic. Minus 40 for two hours or more, we’ve probably already hit some indices in the minus 30s,” Palmer said.

With the weather more volatile in the South and ever changing, the City leveraged the Municipal Government Act and added an additional trigger point the City can activate so if an extreme cold snap is being experienced here and the City executive leadership is viewing that there’s a concern in the community and the actual defined thresholds haven’t been met by Environment Climate Change Canada, the City can leverage that and define it as an emergency in the city.

“So it’s a little bit more robust than it has been in the past and certainly we’ve indicated throughout the summer that this is a new added player to it,” said Palmer.

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