People generally find it easier to complain from afar than to actually find out on their own. Case in point for the past couple of years: downtown Lethbridge.
Despite thousands of people coming to work downtown every weekday, including our staff here at The Herald, the popular narrative seems to suggest that nobody comes downtown anymore. There are frequent complaints, especially online (where everyone gets a voice, regardless of their knowledge on a subject) about crime and panhandling. They say people prefer to shop online. The parking meters are hard to navigate. There isn’t enough parking. If they do find a parking spot, it’s two blocks away from where they want to go.
Well, some of that is totally fair. Some of it is not. Some of these are problems happening downtown — and everywhere else in the city, province, country and world, by the way — and not merely downtown Lethbridge problems.
Even so, the City of Lethbridge and the Lethbridge Police Service, with full support from the Heart of Our City and the Downtown Business Revitalization Zone, are set to launch The Watch today.
Staff and volunteers have finished training and have received their red uniforms and will now be on the streets to help citizens. The team was developed to help deal with the drug crisis, but to also aid people with everything from homelessness issues, crimes, and simple questions.
“The Watch is to bring safety and security back to the downtown core and bring back that safety Lethbridge once had,” Jeff Hansen, The Watch manager, told The Herald last weekend. “With The Watch we are the eyes and ears for LPS, fire and EMS, Social Services, and both the team leaders and volunteers will be out there providing that from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.”
The volunteers had training in basic CPR and first aid, as well as naloxone training, general health awareness, self defence, de-escalation training, and radio protocols. This addition will add eyes and ears to the street. It will help with the perception of and narratives regarding safety.
Will it solve all of the pressing issues? No. But none of the ongoing problems (that, again, are not exclusive to downtown Lethbridge) have easy or overnight solutions. We appreciate that people are trying. Our office is downtown and want to ensure that our staff and our customers feel safe coming here.
Last week, the Heart of Our City Committee and chairperson Dawn Leite also presented an annual report to city council.
“We have come together to brainstorm about what it is we need to do to make our downtown feel safe for our community,” Leite said. “We would like to see downtown continue to be a vibrant, activated and animated space where families can come on weekends to participate in festivals and events, and a place on weekdays where it is busy and people are shopping.”
And there are good things happening. The Taste of Downtown runs this week, and the Downtown History and Beer tour begins its monthly instalments on May 11.
Come check out downtown. You may actually be surprised at how vibrant downtown Lethbridge actually is. Unless you prefer to complain from afar. Your call.
An editorial from the Lethbridge Herald