Two members of Lethbridge city council on Thursday saw first-hand the ongoing issues facing downtown. 

Deputy Mayor John Middleton-Hope and councillor Jenn Schmidt-Rempel walked through Galt Gardens and down city streets with Lethbridge Police sergeants Ryan Darroch of the downtown policing unit and Sgt. Gerald Grobmeier who is the LPS deputy chief of police.

Middleton-Hope worked  for 29 years in law enforcement and spent more than 18 years as a police leader specializing in ethics, community policing, problem-solving, leadership, and police conduct management. 

He shared his passion for Lethbridge and the importance of taking back downtown during the walk.

“I’m very passionate about the city. I’m really passionate about protecting our citizens, protecting our structures, protecting our parks, I think it’s really important for us to ensure that we take back the downtown core of this city and provide opportunities for businesses,” said Middleton-Hope.

Darroch described the importance of having a positive presence when recovering stolen property and moving individuals along before businesses open.

Police check on a lot of the vulnerable population to make sure everyone is OK.

“It’s a great chance to engage this population,  to even at times recover a lot of stolen property because we have some crimes happen overnight. We get a lot of drug seizures, and just to kind of move people along before our downtown kind of lights up with our normal business each day,” said Darroch. 

Schmidt-Rempel has worked in theLethbridge public library as the manager in marketing and social media and she was the owner, publisher and editor of Lethbridge Living magazine. 

She talked about the improvement to come downtown and the upcoming increase in housing supports along with more police officers. 

“I think what we need to do is a better job of what we’re doing right now. So the city has done some things – we’ve done a rezoning in that shelter area. So we’re going to be able to expand and offer more services there. . .We know that there are plans coming forward from Lethbridge Housing to look at a new permanent supportive housing space. That’s going to come forward so that’s going to help out, as well. Our police are hiring more. So we’re going to see an increase in the services that they’re being able to offer,” added Schmidt-Rempel.

Middleton-Hope said when he first came to Lethbridge in 2002 from Calgary, he warned challenges here would escalate if they weren’t addressed.

“What has happened to Lethbridge is Lethbridge is no longer a big Raymond. Lethbridge is a mid-sized city with big city problems. That’s exactly what has happened. And I told them this was coming.”

Schmidt-Rempel noted the importance of creating a positive space in the downtown area for the community, including the unhoused.

“Keeping that space busy with positive activity while also giving positive activity to our unhoused on the other side, so it’s increasing both of those in balance,” said the councillor

Middleton-Hope has resided in Lethbridge for 20 years. He said he was an advocate for the motion to look into fencing around Galt Gardens and there was misunderstanding among the public about the purpose behind it.

“I was a strong advocate for putting up fencing around the park. And some of that was certainly misunderstood in terms of what the intent was.” 

Middleton-Hope said the downtown walks will give council members a chance to talk with people about ongoing issues.

He said he was not sure why this had not been done previously but said there is a need for it. 

“Why aren’t we doing that in advance, talking to the public, and saying ‘OK, so I talked to a lot of quite a number of people about the fencing. And they said, s***, yes, we need to get that park back.’” 

He added there is an opportunity share with other councillors the ongoing issues happening and strategies to overcome the challenges facing downtown.

“Jen and I will go back and we’ll talk to the City and say, ‘OK, how do we work with this? How do we make this work properly?’ . . .there are other members on council that are also passionate about it.” 

Schmidt-Rempel said both addicts and the community as a whole have dealt with trauma, addicts with the issues that took them to drugs and residents for the impact of the safe consumption site that was opened here under a previous provincial government.

“I think when we look at Lethbridge as a whole, we’ve got two forms of trauma going on. We’ve certainly got the people that are faced with addictions that are obviously suffering some kind of trauma that have led them down this path. 

“But we’ve also got a community that’s been traumatized by the supervised consumption site, which is why getting services in when we’re looking at rezoning is increasingly difficult because people are scared that we’re going to start seeing what happened with the supervised consumption site.”

Middleton-Hope expressed his passion not only for the safety of citizens but also for improving the quality of life for all community members, including those living on the streets. 

“So as a city council member now, I ran on the platform of public safety as did the mayor, as did councillor Parker. Some others, you know, had conversations and so forth about it. But that was a really a primary focus of our campaign. And that’s what I work towards. And that’s one of the reasons why I came on the council is to improve the quality of life for all of our citizens. And that includes the people that are living on the street or living rough on the street.”

More members of council plan on walking downtown area to see the ongoing issues. Schmidt-Rempel talked about her efforts of checking up on the downtown area and talking with some of the business owners in downtown. 

“I take different walks downtown, see how things are going and see how people are doing. I’ll talk to different business owners, pop in and just say, ‘Hi, how’s it going?’ Find out what they’re experiencing. I’ll walk different ways downtown . . . So it’s just a matter of walking around downtown and being aware of what’s going on.”

By Steffanie Costigan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 09, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Lethbridge Herald    Lethbridge, Alberta

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