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Council approves coordinated Encampment Strategy

Understanding the complex social issues intertwined in managing encampment concerns, today Lethbridge City Council approved a coordinated Encampment Strategy.

Working in partnership with Lethbridge Police Service, City administration presented a refined Encampment Strategy with several goals including:

  • Supporting the most vulnerable by connecting them to housing and social supports
  • Ensuring parks and open spaces are safe and enjoyable for everyone
  • Preventing entrenchment to minimize health and safety concerns
  • Informing residents of how to report encampments
  • Keeping the community informed on encampment responses

“Addressing homelessness takes significant resources, compassion and collaboration,” says Mayor Blaine Hyggen. “We know we can’t solve homelessness overnight, which is why we have developed this strategy. It will help us manage the growing numbers of people experiencing homelessness in our community which, in the warmer months, we see in the form of encampments.”

On April 18, Lethbridge City Council approved funding for up to $500,000 per year for 2023-2026 and $250,000 one-time funding to support the Encampment Strategy. This includes:

  • Two full-time Encampment Response positions and one full-time Housing Specialist
  • Funding for Lethbridge Police Service overtime resources
  • Additional resource funding including, but not limited to: vehicle and fuel, biohazard cleanup resources, training, personal protective equipment etc.
  • Contracted outreach services (increased with additional one-time funds)

The Strategy also outlines a multi-step approach that will triage an encampment response based on health and safety risks and allocate the appropriate level of resources.

“With the approval of the Encampment Strategy and dedicated funding, we are able to clearly define the level of service we can provide and be consistent in our response and prioritization,” says Andrew Malcolm, General Manager of Community Social Development for the City of Lethbridge. “We know we have challenges in front of us and there is no quick fix but this new approach brings all of our efforts together, in a coordinated way, to make the most impact for our community.”

Public education is also key to helping address encampment issues. The City of Lethbridge is committed to providing regular updates and information to residents related to the management of encampments. The community is also asked to help and report encampments by calling 311. Any immediate, life-threatening issues should always be reported by calling 911.

“Public safety is our priority and we encourage the community to report criminal activity in and around encampments,” says Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh. “While there is a place for enforcement with respect to criminal offences and other municipal and provincial legislation, the City’s tiered response focused on outreach and connecting individuals with services and housing where possible, is integral to supporting our vulnerable population, mitigating entrenchment and facilitating longer-term strategies to address homeless and social disorder in our community.”

Driven by community safety for both those living in encampments and the general community, the encampment response process will help identify the most urgent needs. This includes preventing entrenchment which can pose a serious health and fire safety risk.

“We are anticipating continued drought-like weather in Lethbridge this summer and encampments can be very dangerous under those conditions,” says Lethbridge Fire Chief Greg Adair. “We want to be coordinated with those working in and around encampments to make sure they are educated in identifying fire risks and helping to share that message with those living in the encampments, especially in our river valley.”

Working in partnership with Lethbridge Police Service and other key stakeholders has been vital in the development of this strategy and establishing a consistent response process going forward. We recognize the importance of connecting individuals experiencing homelessness with the necessary services and supports to achieve wellness and secure housing. To achieve this, the City is collaborating with the Lethbridge Housing Authority and the Blood Tribe Department of Health, who operate the main shelter in the city.

To support this effort, one-time funding has been provided, in addition to the Outreach Services funding provided in the operating budget, to cover higher start up costs for the selected proponent(s). To find the right partner, an active invitational call for proposals has been issued to all local service providers with outreach experience. The deadline for the proposal submission is May 23, after which the City will work as quickly as possible with the selected proponent(s) to start operations in June.

It is expected that the contracted Outreach Services will leverage the Integrated Coordinated Access (ICA) system to connect individuals with the services and supports they require through a no-wrong-door approach with a specific focus on wellness, and shelter/housing. With this approach, the City hopes to create a system that is responsive to the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness and supports them in achieving wellness and stability.

View the Encampment Strategy for full details on objectives and response process.

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