Comments received from community members in recent consultations are providing insight into community impacts of the drug crisis as well as ideas for potential solutions.
Facilitators who are leading the consultation process presented a What We Heard report today to City Council members based on comments received from 288 participants who attended four facilitated sessions held Oct. 10-11. The emotional toll was the impact mentioned most often by participants, followed by impacts on business, a decrease in the sense of safety, the cost and resources required to deal with the crisis, an increase in crime, and needle debris. Responses from participants were analyzed for common themes and then weighted by the number of mentions. Every effort was made to remain true to comments received from participants.
Emotional impact received the most mentions and included fears about personal or community safety, helplessness at the overall situation, a sense of loss for what used to be, and undesirable changes such as the sense of divisions in the community. The impact on businesses received the second-most mentions, while a decrease in safety received the third-most mentions.
The facilitated sessions formed the first of three phases of consultation this fall and provided an opportunity for stakeholders, business people, and any other interested community members to discuss how the drug crisis is affecting them, as well as share ideas on constructive solutions to deal with negative effects of the drug crisis.
The complete What We Heard report is available at www.lethbridge.ca/DrugStrategy.
Participants also identified several issues that need resolution. Most often mentioned was a lack of services for those with addictions, followed by a lack of enforcement and prosecution, and differences in perceptions of the drug crisis. Suggested solutions mentioned most often focused on enforcement and the justice system; followed by adding, integrating or consolidating addiction and recovery services; establishing or expanding facilities; and providing better education.
"This report is an important first step toward developing a community-driven, community-based drug strategy," says Mayor Chris Spearman. "It's essential that residents of Lethbridge feel that they have been heard through this process, and the What We Heard report will help inform the next two phases of consultation which will ultimately produce the elements to create a community-based drug strategy."
Phase 2 consultations will involve a strategy session later in November with up to 40 targeted stakeholders such as EMS, business people, social service providers, police, housing agencies, and harm reduction service providers. These Phase 2 consultations will identify desired responses to the drug crisis, any barriers to implementing those responses, and will produce the elements to create a draft community-based drug strategy. Phase 3 consultations in December will include a working group of representatives from key organizations and agencies in Lethbridge who will develop an action plan and draft terms of reference for the Council-appointed committee. The terms of reference will require approval by City Council.
Facilitators for the community sessions noted that voices missing from the conversation were the Indigenous community, users of the Supervised Consumptions Site, and first responders from emergency services and law enforcement. Additional engagement efforts will take place concurrently in order to ensure those perspectives are considered in the community drug strategy.
The consultation process is aimed at achieving the following objectives:
- Provide opportunities for Lethbridge citizens to discuss their experiences and suggest solutions
- Define and agree upon challenges that can be addressed
- Identify community-based strategies to address these challenges
- Identify any gaps or barriers to implementing these strategies
- Recommend terms of reference that set out the mandate and scope of work for the ad hoc committee established by City Council
On August 7, City Council voted to hold community consultation sessions aimed at tackling issues arising from the drug crisis. Council also voted to establish a special ad-hoc committee as soon as possible to address the challenges facing residents, businesses, and others in Lethbridge because of the opioid crisis.
Gerald Gauthier, Communications Consultant
City of Lethbridge