The City of Lethbridge is now officially the largest city in Alberta, after Calgary and Edmonton. Since I last penned this column, the City Clerk announced that we have reached the population milestone of 101, 482. This number reflects more than just our population, it reflects progress. We continue to see people making their home in our city because of the many opportunities for growth our community offers.
This growth can be seen in facilities like the new ATB Centre which offers a place for everyone in our community to come together and swim, skate, curl or workout. Growth can be seen in the number of students staying in our city after they've graduated to pursue career opportunities. Growth can also be seen in programs and services offered to those vulnerable residents who are in need of help.
The Supervised Consumption Site (SCS) is a topic that is always top of mind for myself and many others. As I have seen and heard first hand from business owners and those who frequent our downtown, the social impacts of having this facility in our city are broad and complex.
While harm reduction is the chief mandate of the SCS, social issues as well as petty crime have impacted this area, more than others. As a City, we have taken measures within our control to try and mitigate the negative impacts. Some of those measures include the Downtown Policing Unit, The Watch program and the outreach teams that support those in need. The details of these and the other measures we have successfully actioned can be found at Lethbridge.ca/downtown.
The SCS is completely within the jurisdiction of the provincial government under Alberta Health. It was opened provincially, it is funded provincially and it is being operated by ARCHES. It is not the jurisdiction of a municipal government to make decisions on the future of this site. Decisions on its operations rest solely with the provincial government.
What is within our jurisdiction as a municipal government is assertively seeking the needed supports to break the cycle of addiction in our community. City Council has been advocating for more than five years with provincial governments for Lethbridge to get our share of needed supports that bigger cities like Calgary and Edmonton have. We have consistently asked for intox, detox, recovery facilities and supportive housing. We have been working tirelessly on this issue and will continue to work with our provincial partners to ensure we have the resources to meet the very real challenges our city faces.
We have seen some positives over the past year as they relate to the SCS. Distribution of clean needles has declined from a high of more than 35,000 per month to about 7,000 per month. That is a tremendous decline in the number of needles leaving the facility which results in far less needles being seen in our community. The staff at the SCS have saved lives and diverted hundreds of overdoses from our hospital's emergency room and first responders.
We are doing everything we can to support businesses around the SCS and move forward with action plans to tackle their concerns. Monthly educational seminars are hosted by the City in conjunction with the Downtown BRZ and Chamber of Commerce to provide education and receive feedback from those businesses. As a result of these monthly meetings, there is now enhanced security around the SCS and the successful implementation of the Clean Sweep teams are seeing positive, tangible results.
While we continue this advocacy for our residents and businesses, we will also keep moving forward on very important and key programs as part of our Downtown Clean and Safe Strategy, such as the Watch, our new Community Peace Officer (CPO) Program and our very successful Clean Sweep Program. Just this week, the nine newest CPOs were sworn in as bylaw officers and will now commence their 16-week field training. These nine outstanding individuals took the exact same training as the newest Lethbridge Police Service (LPS) Officers and will serve our community in a number of ways. This tiered approach to enforcement in our city is just one of the ways that City Council has directly provided support to combatting negative impacts.
These CPOs will be able to aid the LPS in enforcing crimes such as theft and mischief under $5,000, execute search warrants and conduct limited traffic enforcement, while also having authority around substances and gaming-related offenses.
Another issue that has been brought to my attention is neighbourhoods that may be observing suspicious activity at a particular home on their block. While the LPS does monitor these homes, there are other resources residents can reach out to for help in addressing their concerns.
Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) is a unit of the Alberta Sheriffs that helps keep communities safe by dealing with problem properties that are being used for specific illegal activity. Residents can confidentially make a report to SCAN via the toll-free number 1-866-960-SCAN (7226) or by heading to alberta.ca/report-suspicious-property.aspx.
Crime Stoppers is another resource residents can use to help "create a safer, more secure community." By calling 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or go to sacrimestoppers.ca, residents pass along tips about anything suspicious they may witness. Again, this service is confidential and about creating a safer community for everyone.
The drug issue has been a very complex one that changes every year. We have seen drug use doubling every year since 2013 and the supply of drugs continues unabated. Our Police budget, new initiatives and funding for the downtown clean and safe program were the only approved increases to our municipal budget, in our efforts to support the enforcement pillar of the drug strategy.
The SCS operating in isolation without the additional pillars of prevention and education, treatment and recovery is being blamed by many for the escalating drug problem.
There are real opportunities to improve the serious drug situation in Lethbridge and City Council continues to ask our provincial government to provide the supports we so desperately need.
It's frustrating as a Mayor and as a member of this community to see larger cities continue to receive additional supports while the very same supports that are needed in Lethbridge are "under review." While we do all that we can to help mitigate the negatives in the drug crisis, it is ultimately the province that needs to take action and ownership in working to help get those who suffer addiction on the path to recovery.
We are encouraged that Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan and Seniors and Housing Minister Josephine Pon have recently visited Lethbridge. We look forward to working with them so we can move towards receiving the facilities and resources Lethbridge requires to effectively respond to the issues of addiction, drug use and the associated crime in our city.
It is important to have a coordinated approach to drugs in our community. We need to work together with all levels of government to address how to best help those who are suffering, both directly and indirectly. Without an approach that includes all elements of a cohesive drug strategy, we will continue to see the same results.
One a lighter note, I'd like to extend my sincere thanks to the organizers of some of the best summer events our city has seen over the years. To those who helped with Pride Fest, National Indigenous Peoples Day, ATB Financial Lethbridge Rotary Dragon Boat Fest, Latin Fest, Street Wheelers and of course, the Canada Day celebrations, thank you! Many of these events were organized by teams of hardworking volunteers and were free for the public to enjoy. These events give residents and visitors to our city an opportunity to meet new people, learn something new, enjoy the beautiful weather and celebrate together. The spirit in which these events are held is a guiding light for how our community continues to grow, thrive and come together.