Lethbridge mayor to ask community organizations, LPS and businesses to work together to address growing drug crisis

By Lara Fominoff - Lethbridge News Now
August 25, 2018 - 3:16pm

LETHBRIDGE - Two notices of motion presented by Mayor Chris Spearman and seconded by Deputy Mayor and Councillor Jeff Carlson, will be debated at the September 4 City Council meeting.

The first Notice of Motion asks that City Council facilitate a process for public input into safely identifying drug dealers and sharing that information with Lethbridge Police. It also asks that City Council representatives on the police commission work with the police chief and the police commission to develop the process.

Spearman says he hopes the whole community gets together to work towards solutions and even wonders if the Crime Stoppers program could be used.

"How do we encourage more people to be forthcoming in a safe way in identifying crimes that are taking place and illegal activities that are taking place. What we don't want to do is encourage the community to become vigilantes, but we want them to work with our police force. And what we may need to do is increase the communication."

He says there are limited options for what he, as a mayor, can do under the Police Act, but says he understands that petty crimes associated with drug use and drug use itself are the number one issues in the city.

"How do we combat together the issue of increasing drug use in our city and the concerns that citizens have?"

The other motion also suggests that because any funding from the provincial government could take up to two years to implement, that:

"City Council work with community social service organizations, local businesses and religious organizations to expedite opportunities for:

1. supported housing for safe sobering; and

2. meaningful daily activity for users of the supervised consumption site in order to mitigate negative impacts on businesses in the area."

And that, according to Spearman, could include not only opening local churches or other buildings to the homeless and drug addicted to provide temporary housing and meaningful activities, but also potentially providing locally sourced funding for those initiatives.

"One of the complaints of local businesses are that people use the Supervised Consumption Site (SCS) and then come out and hang out around the businesses. But what if they had somewhere to go? And if there was some way that they could access...shade and water, or maybe there's someplace to just go and relax. And if we had a facility where they could go and watch television or play games or do something. So, that would get them off the street. They wouldn't be lying on the lawn in front of a local business."

The mayor also suggests creating a community-based hostel to get people out of the homeless shelter, which he admits is not a very pleasant place to be, especially since the homeless rate doubled in the last two years.

"To be honest, our homeless shelter is challenged. Councillor [Belinda] Crowson and I went to Calgary to look at homeless shelters in Calgary. And they're funded at two and three times the level our homeless shelter is. Their facilities are beautiful. Ours is not beautiful, to be polite about it."

But Spearman is hesitant about using city monies, like the surplus from the Municipal Revenue Stabilization Reserve, which currently has more than $3 million in it, and is expected to have another two million by the end of 2018.

Seven-hundred and fifty-thousand dollars from that reserve has been promised to the committee vying for the 2020 Memorial Cup, should the local bid be successful.

"What we're trying to figure out is, what should the city do? And what should the province do? And where is the line? So, when we're promoting something as a community event that's one thing. When we're providing what is essentially health services that is a different issue. So normally, providing health services is not a city responsibility...We don't want to make an ongoing commitment and step into an area that the province normally funds, or we'll be doing that forever."

Rather, he hopes that members of the community work together to support the needs of those who are homeless and addicted on a short-term basis.

"As much as we might like to do that, that's not a good precedent."

Semi hauling lettuce rolls near Monarch early Sunday