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September Encampment Strategy Update

Today, City Council heard the latest update on the City of Lethbridge’s Encampment Strategy. Throughout the summer months, the strategy has helped guide the response to encampments including outreach services for individuals experiencing homelessness.

“We are continuing to see the downward trend in reporting of encampments, number of total structures, and most importantly, towards less entrenched encampments,” says Andrew Malcolm, General Manager of Community Social Development for the City of Lethbridge. “We’ve also seen a steady drop in the amount of debris collected when we do have encampment clean-ups.”

In the last month, four coordinated cleanups were conducted with an average of less than 400 kg of debris per cleanup. In contrast, the year-to-date average is 1600 kg per cleanup. This decrease indicates less severe and entrenched encampments.

The latest statistics show 247 calls for encampments have been reported to the City since June 19, 2023. Through the triaging system, 116 were 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 18 coordinated encampment clean-ups with a total of 569 structures and 28,608 kg of debris removed.

The City of Lethbridge has also been able to reallocate funding dedicated for needle debris cleanup from the Government of Alberta that will help support an increased presence of the Clean Sweep Program as an integral part of the encampment response.

“Our encampment strategy relies on the dispatching of appropriate resources to each report based on a triaging process,” says Malcolm. “This ensures Lethbridge Police Service resources are used appropriately, connection to social services is provided by outreach workers, and the Clean Sweep Program is there to help keep our community clean for everyone.”

There have historically been fewer encampments in Lethbridge during the winter months, and this trend is anticipated to continue. As such, the final 2023 encampment update is scheduled to go to Council in October.

In the coming months, the Encampment Response Team will remain fully staffed and available to respond to community reports of encampments. The team will also undertake a review of the first season of operations under the Encampment Strategy and present key learnings and recommendations to City Council in advance of implementation in spring 2024.

In the colder weather, fire prevention also becomes more of a safety risk as it relates to encampments.

“We see more individuals looking for heating sources, sometimes in abandoned buildings, and this becomes very dangerous for both the individuals and the public,” says Neil Jesse, Fire Prevention Officer for Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services.

To prevent trespassing and fire, Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services reminds all property owners of the importance of safely securing vacant buildings. This includes residential homes, garages and commercial properties. These steps will help protect the property and ensure public safety.

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.

The Strategy establishes a consistent approach that triages an encampment response based on health and safety risks and allocate the appropriate level of resources.

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

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