May 24th, 2024

Municipalities to address crime, homelessness

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on April 27, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Representatives of Alberta’s mid-sized municipalities will be meeting at City Hall next week to discuss common issues with crime, homelessness and other matters.
The purpose of the workshop is to discuss challenges faced by communities in Alberta. The workshop, which is not open to the public, will be staged on May 2 from 4 until 7 p.m. in City Hall and will also be streamed online for communities which couldn’t attend in person.
It will be held the day before the unrelated Alberta Association of Police Governance Conference & Annual General Meeting which is scheduled for May 3-4.
Councillor John Middleton-Hope, who came up with the idea for the workshop and was directed by mayor Blaine Hyggen to engage other community leaders while he was deputy mayor, said after the meeting of the Downtown Lawlessness Task Force on Thursday morning that it’s advantageous for municipalities to meet to discuss common issues.
British Columbia has 30 communities currently working together on a similar type of approach and other initiatives are being undertaken across the country, the councillor said.
He said it’s important for municipalities to advocate as a collective to various provincial ministries for assistance.
Curtis Zablocki, Assistant Deputy Minister for the public security division of the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Services, will be attending the workshop. Zablocki retired last year from his position as deputy commissioner of the RCMP in Alberta.
Middleton-Hope said the minister wants municipalities to work together on projects that address crime and disorder issues in their communities.
“There is support from the government to do this, there is support from the municipalities,” he added.
Municipalities that were invited have more than 50,000 residents. They include Grand Prairie, Wood Buffalo, Spruce Grove, Sherwood Park, Aidrie, Red Deer and Medicine Hat. The total population of these communities is about 700,000.
“This is municipally driven, this is not police driven, this is not police commission driven,” Middleton-Hope added.
“This is a municipal government initiative to try and get support on best practices, to try and get support on how do we move these initiatives forward,” he added.
“These are opportunities for other municipalities to learn from what we have done and we want to learn equally from them what they have done, what works, what doesn’t work so we don’t go down rabbit holes.”
At the task force meeting, Middleton-Hope said other municipalities across western Canada are forming committees, task forces and working groups to start analyzing problems they are having in their downtown cores.
In Alberta, 26 municipalities are constituted as mid-sized cities with populations between 15,000 and 110,000.
“The purpose of this was to gain an understanding for the challenges that each of these of these communities is facing and how they could be compared to what we were doing in Lethbridge, both in terms of identifying the challenges that we were facing as well as the potential solutions that they may be implementing in other venues,” Middleton-Hope said.
At the Alberta Municipalities conference in Edmonton, discussions with mayors suggested there was “sufficient synergy” that they wanted to come together to have more discussions and an opportunity to identify some of the challenging situations communities are facing, he added.
Discussions will start by providing other municipalities an understanding of the Downtown Lawlessness Reduction Task Force as well as the City’s encampment strategy that was implemented last summer.
He said the hope is that other municipalities will provide insights into what they are doing to combat their own issues.
“Every municipality across the province, whether they’re small, mid-sized or large are experiencing to some degree a form of addictions problems, homelessness problems, crime problems in their downtown core,” he said.
“One of the things that we’ve clearly identified is that resources that are being put into Calgary and Edmonton in particular have created displacement so we have had a substantial increase in drug-related crimes in this particular reason, but not exclusively to this region. Some of that has to do with pressures being put on Calgary and some of it has to do with our location. There’s a variety of different reasons why that’s happening but the reality is we want to have these discussions with these other municipalities to tell them that they’re not alone, that we are working on strategies to try and impact the problems in our neighbourhoods and we want to hear from them what type of solutions they’re coming up with,” Middleton-Hope added.

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