A downtown safety information and education session was held in the CASA community room this week where three safety presentations were given to the community.

Housing Solution Coordinator at City of Lethbridge Matthew Pitcher started the session by sharing the City’s perspective of the challenges being faced downtown. 

“From the City’s perspective, we’ve seen over the last couple of years a pretty significant increase in the number of encampments that have been occurring. And that really came to a head during summer last year. We saw encampments that were large and more entrenched at the Civic Center,” said Pitcher.

Pitcher talked about the strategies and collaborations the City has done in an effort to help alleviate downtown challenges and his position within the strategy. 

In his position as Housing Solutions co-ordinator, Pitcher and two other staff members are specifically dedicated to work on a strategy that includes a lot of partnership opportunities.  

The City presentation shared statistics in Lethbridge which showed that a total of 92 encampments had been identified in the last reporting period. Pitcher said the three-tier system involving Streets Alive, The Watch, and police collaborate on issues downtown – depending on the severity of each situation. 

Shane Kisinger, manager of The Watch, said the purpose of that organization is to de-escalate issues and situations downtown before police need to get involved.  

“We’re one extra layer of security in the downtown core” businesses and the downtown population, providing an extra set of eyes and ears that can contact police or EMS if needed, he said.

“We’re also the eyes and ears of social and community services. They reach out to us  – lots of young people in programs. We’re trying to get people into treatments, and they need help locating them,” explained Kisinger. 

Kisinger elaborated on The Watch and how they administer lifesaving measures when necessary for drug overdoses or help escort community members who are not feeling safe. 

The next presentation was by David Gabert, communications lead and project coordinator of Canadian Mental Health Association  who spoke on the purpose of the Diversion Outreach Team (DOT).

“Our three goals are really to divert calls from LPs and EMS whenever possible, to provide transportation to safe shelter to vulnerable individuals and to try our best to enhance that kind of safety by responding to (misbehaviour),” said Gabert. 

Sergeant Ryan  Darroch of the LPS Downtown Policing Unit was the last to speak and he addressed  the shortage of police officers in Lethbridge and the efforts LPS is making to increase their numbers. 

By Steffanie Costigan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Oct 26, 2023 at 16:23

This item reprinted with permission from   Lethbridge Herald    Lethbridge, Alberta

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