May 19th, 2024

City council amends encampment strategy

By Lethbridge Herald on May 14, 2024.

Clothing and other items are seen deep in the trees at Indian Battle Park between an asphalt pathway and the river. City council on Tuesday approved amendments to the City’s encampment strategy. Herald photo by Al Beeber


Lethbridge city council on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve recommended amendments to the City’s encampment strategy.

The amendments were recommended by the Safety and Social Standing Policy Committee of  city council at its April 18 meeting.

The matter was among several items in the consent agenda of the meeting.

The encampment strategy was approved in May of 2023 and became operational last June. 

A report to council says it was developed and implemented in partnership with the Lethbridge Police Service and “provided the community a consistent response that recognizes the importance of balancing the needs and protection of the dignity of the most vulnerable while maintaining public safety, health, order, and safe and enjoyable parks and green spaces for all residents.”

The strategy is getting $260,000 in funding this year and for the following two years from the 2023-26 operating budget. It also received $250,000 in one-time funding from the Municipal Stabilization Reserve and $500,000 ongoing from that reserve.

Presently, says the report, there is $2,630,312 available of approved funding.

The recommended amendments include an internal outreach model in partnership with LPS and The Watch program.

Andrew Malcolm, Community Social Development general manager, said outside council chambers on Tuesday that the general public won’t likely notice any change.

“What we want to do for the general public is continue with the consistency that they would have seen in 2023 with an ability to report an encampment and that in a fairly short turnaround, they will see that encampment being taken down. And those individuals that are in the encampment being offered supports to connect them with social services, and hopefully, ultimately housing,” said Malcolm.

“One of the changes that we will be doing is increasing our ability to support those individuals who are in the encampments themselves and we’re doing that through a new approach with outreach,” in partnership with The Watch program and two new specialists within CSD.

That will allow the City to increase its ability “to do a better job of connecting those individuals to resources and spending more time with them to make sure that they aren’t just moving around our city from encampment to encampment and they’re given every opportunity to move up into better social supports” and housing, he added.

Two individuals have worked in the field so a seasonal worker is being brought in for peak times which will allow the City to be more flexible with the time of its staff and give another body to help respond, he noted.

The City’s encampment report says the amendments will provide an enhanced service to the vulnerable here and the community at large with the Watch being able to utilize existing resources and expand its current scope with support from the City’s Community Social Development outreach specialists.

“This option provides an increased ability to adapt and respond to community needs in real time as it eliminates a third party that may be bound by contractual expectations,” says the report.

Strategic goals of the amended strategy include:

• Parks and public spaces within the community are enjoyable for everyone.

• Vulnerable people are connected to wellness, housing and social supports.

• Encampments do not become entrenched.

• Residents are informed on how to report encampments identified within the community.

• Community and city council remain informed. 

Keys to the response include:

• An adequately resourced, year-round encampment response that is coordinated with LPS.

• An approach that can respond quickly and consistently to balance the needs and dignity of the most vulnerable in the community while maintaining public safety, health, order and safe and enjoyable parks and parks and green spaces public spaces for all residents.

• A dedicated outreach services team that will engage with and prioritize the needs of those living in encampments with a focus on wellness and appropriate shelter/housing, prior to the clearing of encampments.

• A risk assessment tool used to help triage the closure and cleanup of encampments. Risk factors consider length of time structure(s) have been in place, proximity to locations or events where the safety of public and encampment occupants could be jeopardized, occupant injury or death due to fire, disease, extreme weather, drug use, violence, observed or investigated presence of weapons, or criminal activity.

Last year, July had the most encampment reports at 117 with 49 being unique. The number of reports in the coulees was higher during warmer months.

Last year there were a total of 978 total public safety reports through 311 platforms. Of those 455, or 46 per cent, were encampments and 256 were unique encampments requiring varying levels of support based upon initial triage.

There were at least seven instances in which EMS were requested for overdose care.

Of the 455 encampment reports, 76 were abandoned sites (Tier 1), 149 were structures with no immediate health or safety risk (Tier 2) and 31 were of three or more structures and/or pose a health and safety risk (Tier 3).

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The encampment strategy has worked well and the responses have been in a timely fashion, given the complexity of some of the situations.
The truly homeless are not the ones who are out downtown all night, using their camps as bases of operations for the criminal activities.
Some of these people are now ‘living rough’ around downtown businesses, in Galt Gardens, in the Civic Center track area, the library while continuing their illegal activities at night. We are seeing an increase of this adapted style of living downtown, which saw a garage burned on 7th street south in the 500 block last week and other property damages in the downtown core and this needs to be addressed.
I know the city is working on plans to address this and I have faith it will see success as the encampment strategy has shown.
What is needed are people in these areas taking the time to report these activities so they know where resources need to be!

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