October Encampment Strategy Update
As the seasons change, so does the focus of the City of Lethbridge’s encampment response. With fewer encampments anticipated through the colder weather, the encampment response team will be available when needed but will also transition to evaluating the past season and planning for 2024.
Since the spring, the City’s Encampment Strategy has helped guide the response to encampments including outreach services for individuals experiencing homelessness.
“As we start to see the colder weather set in, we know there will be different challenges for the vulnerable populations in our community,” says Eric Foster, Encampment Support Specialist with the City of Lethbridge. “Because of this, we are shifting our efforts to prepare for the winter season and evaluating our encampment response to make any adjustments ahead of next spring.”
The Encampment Team has been working alongside Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services (LFES) Fire Prevention Bureau to identify abandoned buildings that may be at risk for trespassing during colder temperatures.
“We have seen significant loss in our community with fires in abandoned buildings,” says Heath Wright, LFES Chief Fire Marshal. “To help protect the community, we have been actively working with building owners, the Encampment Team, Regulatory Services, Lethbridge Police Service, and Alberta Health Services to try and prevent this from happening this winter.”
Through the City’s emergency management department, work has been ongoing to coordinate efforts and plan for potential warming centres, should there be a need to activate the Extreme Weather Response Protocols.
“It is important to plan for extreme weather but we also know there is danger to the health and wellbeing of our vulnerable population well before we meet that threshold,” says Foster. “We are also working closely with the Government of Alberta and the Blood Tribe Department of Health who operate the Lethbridge Shelter. As a municipality, we want to support them to make any changes that could help increase capacity and meet the changing needs through winter.”
The City of Lethbridge owns the existing Shelter land and building and manages a lease with Blood Tribe Department of Health who is chosen and funded by the Government of Alberta.
City Council approved a new Shelter Development Strategy in June with the goal of helping to influence and facilitate appropriate shelter capacity levels. This connects directly into the Encampment Strategy which included the hiring of a full-time Housing Solutions Coordinator to look at ways to increase and diversify shelter and housing capacity in the community. This position works closely will local stakeholders and other levels of government to help champion the needs in Lethbridge.
The latest encampment statistics show 377 calls for encampments have been reported to the City since June 19, 2023. Through the encampment response triaging system, 202 have been identified as encampments requiring varying levels of support. The remaining calls have been for other related topics such as debris, mess in a lane or unsightly premises and addressed by various other City departments. There have been 23 coordinated encampment clean-ups with a total of 627 structures and 32,058 kg of debris removed.
Through the deployment of contracted outreach services, the Encampment Strategy has been effective in supporting our vulnerable population by connecting them to the services they need. It has also established a consistent approach that triages a response based on health and safety risks and allocate the appropriate level of resources. This has helped prevent entrenchment and protected the safety of those living in the encampment and the community.
As needs change and the transition to a winter response occurs, there will be some changes to the contracted outreach services. The Streets Alive Mission’s contract will end on October 31 and the City will continue to engage with the Blood Tribe Department of Health on evaluating the Street Medicine pilot project. This evaluation will look at ways to build off its success to support the vulnerable population through the winter months. In September alone, the project reported 172 instances of healthcare provided, 20 housing referrals, 23 social services referrals and 3,261 total encounters for the month.
View the Encampment Strategy for full details on objectives and response process.
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