The City of Lethbridge on Wednesday released an update on its encampment strategy plans.

Since the rollout strategy of the 311-contact centre, 156 requests have been received, all related to encampments.

 General manager of Community Social Development for the City of Lethbridge, Andrew Malcolm talked to media Wednesday about the reports they have received and the resources the City has provided in addressing ongoing concerns. 

“We are seeing requests for things like biohazards, needle debris, and people sleeping rough. And so through our triaging process again, to allocate the most purposeful amount of resources to the certain situation, 70 of which are truly encampments. And we’ve been able to respond to all of those so far,” Malcolm said.

Of the 156 requests to 311, 22 were for biohazards, 26 for debris with evidence of sleeping rough and 28 for needle debris.

In addition to the updated strategy, the Street Medicine program has been implemented. This outreach-focus pilot project is being funded through the City of Lethbridge and operated by the Blood Tribe Department of Health. Malcolm described the resources, health checkups, and counseling being implemented within the updated strategy. 

“Our Street Medicine team, through Blood Tribe Department of Health, we’ll be able to do basic medical checkups, simple disease management, dressing changes, wound checkups, and health education and counselling. But most importantly, those health referrals so that they can get in and see doctors and get the help they need, whether that’s mental health or just physical health.”

Since the new online report form was launched back on June 19, the City has received 56 online reports; it is estimated about one-third of the  total volume of reports have come in through this online report form. And the City expects the number of reports to increase. 

Malcolm said their outreach services through Streets Alive are up and operational and talked about the medical conditions and needs which the Street Medicine program is responding to.

“Over the last month, we’ve also been able to get our outreach services through Streets Alive up and operational and are currently working on a supplementary plan with Blood Tribe, Department of Health, for a health-based outreach service to help supplement what we’re seeing out there. 

“A number of individuals in encampments are dealing with different types of medical conditions, that they will be able to respond to taking some pressure off of our fire and EMS resources, as well as helping with health referrals to get folks the help they need.”

Malcolm emphasized 311 is not a replacement line for EMS, and if there is an emergency, it is encouraged to call 911. He said the City has not only addressed the 70 reports but has also cleaned up 42 structures.  

“So far, we’ve addressed the 70 that have come in through the call centre. And then, on a weekly basis, we’re doing coordinated cleanups with our partners. In those coordinated cleanups, we have removed 42 structures, which is a total of 2,345 kilograms worth of waste materials.”

Lethbridge city council approved $500,000 in funding per year for 2023 to 2026, with an additional $250,000 one-time funding to support the encampment strategy on April 18. Malcolm noted the trend of new young adults experiencing homelessness and the procedures the city has in place for miners on the street.

“We have seen the same trend that there are new faces and that there are young individuals in our community. Now, when we say young, we’re typically young adults is what we’re referring to. Anytime that we see a true minor or have an indication of a true minor, we have a separate process entirely that we’re undertaking to ensure those individuals are safe.”

The updated strategy-focused approach consists of triaging an encampment response based on the health, safety risks and allocating the appropriate level of resources. Malcolm expressed his excitement about the City having a new housing solutions coordinator and the consistent approach the City is offering to the community.

“I think the biggest thing with this strategy was getting resources in place so that we could offer the community a consistent approach to our response. And so having staff dedicated to this has greatly helped with that. One of those positions is, of course, something that is a housing solutions coordinator who’s tackled with upstream solutions, and that one is going to take a little bit more time. But we’re certainly excited that that position has been filled, and we’re able to start looking at making long-term solutions.”

By Steffanie Costigan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 13, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Lethbridge Herald    Lethbridge, Alberta

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