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Council approves new Shelter Development Strategy

In recent years, the city of Lethbridge has seen an increase in the number of individuals experiencing homelessness, as well as the number of those unsheltered. As additional shelter capacity could result in fewer unsheltered individuals, Lethbridge City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously in favour to approve a new Shelter Development Strategy.

With the action, Council has directed Administration to work with the Government of Alberta and current/potential shelter operators to identify capital and operational funding sources for temporary and permanent shelter development on City-owned land that will adequately address the needs of those who are difficult to house. The decision was based on recommendations from a presentation at the June 15 Cultural and Social Standing Policy Committee meeting and coincides with previous Council direction to rezone the current Shelter and to explore amendments to Land Use Bylaw 6300 regarding “shelter,” “supportive housing,” and other related social uses.

The Shelter Development Strategy, which can be viewed here, has two primary goals:

  • To clarify the City’s involvement in shelter development and identify opportunities to ensure that there is land available and adequately zoned for ’Shelter’ use as defined in Land Use Bylaw 6300
  • To ensure that the City of Lethbridge has adequate shelter capacity to house all those experiencing homelessness in the Community on any given night

The City of Lethbridge owns the existing Shelter land and building and manages a lease with a third-party operator who is chosen and funded by the Government of Alberta. Outside of this site, the City has historically taken a hands-off approach when it comes to any new shelter development in the community, leaving this responsibility to the Province of Alberta and interested not-for-profit organizations.

However, recent influencing factors like the opioid crisis, COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and cost-of-living increases have exacerbated challenges related homelessness in our community, and the City can take an increasingly involved approach to shelter development, says Andrew Malcolm, General Manager, Community Social Development.

“By expanding our involvement in this area, we will be able to better influence and facilitate appropriate shelter capacity levels, as well as site design and location,” says Malcolm. “Our Shelter Development Strategy connects directly into the next steps from our recent Encampment Strategy, which included a full-time Housing Solutions Coordinator who will look to coordinate systemic solutions to increase and diversify shelter and housing capacity in the community. Ultimately, this will give more choice to those currently living in encampments to secure safe and secure shelter.”

Current issues for increasing shelter capacity include lack of available and appropriately-zoned land to purchase, develop or re-develop; access to funding; and availability and willingness of operators. The Municipality’s identified role in reducing barriers to shelter development includes land use regulation; land banking; and capital funding.

“We know there are significant needs for shelter resources in our community,” says Councillor Jenn Schmidt-Rempel, Vice Chair of the Cultural and Social SPC. “Through considering appropriate amendments to the Land Use Bylaw, we could use the Municipal Land Banking Strategy to strategically bank and utilize land for municipal initiatives including shelter and social service uses. Today’s decision is big step in the right direction.”

As part of Tuesday’s motion, Council also rescinded the April 2022 resolution which had approved a budget up to $100,000 to procure a consultant to do the following: 1. Conduct community engagement on the creation of a made for Lethbridge Community care campus; 2. Create conceptual designs for a community care campus; and 3. Develop a business case for a community care campus.

The new motion will reallocate the previously-allocated $100,000 from Council Contingencies towards the execution of the Shelter Development Strategy at the discretion of the City Manager or designate. Members of Administration will also return to Council, through the Cultural & Social SPC, with quarterly updates on the implementation of the Shelter Development Strategy.

Tuesday’s decision began as an Official Business Resolution at the January 24, 2023, City Council meeting where Administration was directed to develop a strategic, long-term response to sheltering residents in need and those who are difficult to house.

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