City Council has proactively initiated the planning and consultation needed to support much-needed housing options in Lethbridge. This work will prepare the City should Provincial Government funding and resources become available.
At a special meeting on Tuesday, Council voted 6-2 in favour of:
- Authorizing Administration to proceed with the necessary steps to apply for development approval for an interim shelter at the former Civic Curling Centre
- Directing Administration to act as the applicant through the coordination of project development, including but not limited to: processes of development approval and Safety Codes permitting; space design; construction; and neighbour engagement
- Directing Administration to return with the respective agreements for the operation of a sober shelter with results from public engagement, as well as the budgetary implications;
"We directed Administration to do some research – and to do some community consultation – to explore what a proposed interim sober shelter at the former Civic Curling Centre could look like," says Deputy Mayor Jenn Schmidt-Rempel, who introduced Tuesday's new motion.
"Today's action will help lay the groundwork for advocacy to the Provincial government. This would be part of the continuum of housing and it would help people who are living in encampments and looking for treatment."
Lethbridge is one of many cities across Canada and North America which have seen an increase in homeless encampments within their communities.
While every individual's situation and circumstances are unique, several contributing factors may apply to this increase, including a lack of affordable and stable housing; personal health and safety concerns; mental health conditions; drug addictions and the ongoing opioid crisis; a lack of connection to services and resources; and COVID-19 restrictions.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the complex social issues that come with homelessness and it will require all stakeholders to come together to address possible solutions. The City of Lethbridge is one piece of the puzzle, but a critical piece. A primary task of Lethbridge City Council is to advocate other levels of government for services we need. This includes preparing with zoning, land/buildings and finances to be ready for any new services coming to the city.
Council on Tuesday also voted to appoint Mayor Blaine Hyggen to a Stakeholder Working Group, as discussed in closed session, that will be formed to assist with the concerns in the community.
Earlier in Tuesday's meeting, Council received an Administrative Response Encampment Report from Mike Fox, Director of Community Services, and Takara Motz, Community Social Development Operations Manager. The full 22-page report can be viewed here.
Community Social Development engaged multiple stakeholders for information and options, with the following contributing to the report: CSD; Lethbridge Police Services; Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services; City of Lethbridge Legal; City of Lethbridge Regulatory Services; Government of Alberta; Alpha House Society; and the Canadian Mental Health Association.
"This proposed temporary sober shelter would help people get into housing and that's a big need in our community," Fox says. "We are also encouraged that the Provincial Government has committed to more transitional housing, which we anticipate to be ready in September."
Administration will explore the viability of the former Civic Curling Centre (the curling side is currently being used for storage and some LPS training), which would not require a rezoning. Extensive community consultation will be a part of the next steps for Administration as well.
Previous items referred to Administration from the July 26 Council meeting became negated with Tuesday's report and new motion approval. Those included the proposal for City Council allocating up to $470,000 in one-time funding from Corporate Budget Contingencies for administration to move forward with more suitable solutions for encampment concerns that go above just encampment clean-up. That item is not proceeding at this time.
Last month, Council voted in favour of funding allocations to provide more services, outreach, support and resources to help the vulnerable population in the city. This includes up to $230,000 in one-time funding from Corporate Budget Contingencies to assist in the administrative and policing funding shortfalls to expedite compassionate clean-up at encampments. The budget summary can be found here.
On July 26, Council also approved an Official Business Motion from Acting Mayor Belinda Crowson for Council to direct Administration to report to Council, through the September 13 regular Council meeting, with a report on how the City of Lethbridge is positioned to assist proponents in securing Rapid Housing Initiative funding for affordable and social housing projects in Lethbridge through land use and development processes and co-investment opportunities via contributions of funding and/or land banking.
More information on the City's encampment response process can be found here.
Attached is a graphic outlining Government Roles and Responsibilities in Responding to Homelessness.