Homelessness is on the rise in Lethbridge, says City of Lethbridge Community and Social Development manager Martin Thompsen, and the key to turning around the trend is a comprehensive municipal housing strategy which takes into account all social factors, including mental health supports and addictions treatment.
“Between 2016 and 2018, we have seen a huge increase in our homelessness numbers,” confirmed Thompsen. “We went from 89 to 223. There are a number of factors that account for this increase . . . we did change the methodology on how we count homeless numbers and that did account for part of the increase. But even with that methodology change, we know we have had a significant increase of homelessness. The number-one cause of that homelessness in Lethbridge is drug and substance abuse. Having said that, it is very difficult for someone to make a change in life if they don’t have a place to live, so housing first and then bringing in wrap-around supports is key.”
Thompsen referred to the Community Service Delivery Plan submitted to city council on Monday by the Social Housing in Action (SHIA) committee as a good starting point for reference as the City works toward finalizing its municipal housing strategy later this spring.
“With that research and stakeholder engagement,” explained Thompsen, “we will build a municipal housing strategy and homelessness strategy that will hopefully create that made-for-Lethbridge strategy. We are on track to have all that work ready for the end of March, and we are very excited about it.”
Thompsen said complementing the made-for-Lethbridge strategy is the provincial government’s recent announcement it will be funding a new 42-unit supportive housing facility in the community. Thompsen calls that announcement “critical” to the City’s own strategic plans to deal with homelessness.
City council was given more insight into how the upcoming operational performance reviews on the City’s departments will work in principle, and where the money would be coming from to fund the review process.
City manager Bram Strain told councillors during Monday’s public meeting his staff would be putting the contract out for tender for a third-party evaluator, who would conduct the reviews, compare Lethbridge’s spending to other jurisdictions of a similar size, and make recommendations to council on how to create greater efficiencies in City services and operations.
Funding for the third-party evaluator, Strain said, would come from unallocated and unspent funds in the budget which would be centralized in an account under the supervision of his office.
Coun. Joe Mauro questioned the need to fund a third-party evaluator to do the work.
“(City) business units have a business unit head, and I am assuming we are paying pretty decent money (to them),” said Mauro. “Why wouldn’t they be able to delve into this first and find efficiencies and all those things prior to going out to a third party? I am assuming that would be part of their job.”
City senior swindled
Lethbridge Police are investigating a $250,000 fraud after scammers allegedly targeted a local senior citizen.
Last week, LPS officials said in a news release on Monday, the son of an 81-year-old woman reported his mother had been the victim of telemarketing scams and had been sending significant payments almost weekly since March 2018.
A police investigation determined the senior initially received a letter purporting to be from the Bank of America and indicating she had won a U.S. sweepstakes. Believing the letter was authentic, she made contact and was told in order to claim the winnings she had to pay state and other taxes and insure the money.
Police said during the next 10 months, the victim dealt with numerous scammers via phone who continued to convince her she needed to make payments and provide her personal and banking information in order to ultimately claim the prize. The woman received hundreds of phone calls from the sweepstakes scammers and, in mid-January, callers began to indicate they were from the Canada Revenue Agency and Canadian taxes were now owed.
In total, approximately $250,000 was provided to the scammers, mostly by way of bank drafts.
Police say the investigation is ongoing.
“These types of scams are unfortunately very common and the criminals behind them can be very convincing,” said A/Sgt. Paolo Magliocco, with the Economic Crimes Unit, in the release.
Whoop-Up congestion addressed
The City will consider spending $23 million over the next 10 years to help alleviate traffic congestion on Whoop-Up Drive, but no third bridge appears to be in the cards for the foreseeable future.
The City’s transportation engineering manager Ahmed Ali told councillors during Monday’s public meeting that $10 million, according to the results of a two-year planning study on Whoop-Up Drive’s existing interchanges, will be minimally required in the next decade to add another lane on Scenic Drive leading into the Whoop Up Drive off-ramp, and, at the same time, to twin the ramp itself to allow greater ease of traffic flow. He also asked council to consider spending $13 million to do the same on University Drive on the other side of Whoop-Up leading in and out of the off-ramps there.
That $23 million, he confirmed to reporters later, is likely the most cost-effective way to alleviate the flow problems and enhance the safety of Whoop-Up Drive as the city continues to grow, particularly on the westside.
“As I indicated (to council),” Ali explained, “the short-term improvements are required in either case, whether or not you build a third bridge. That’s given.”
Injured farmworkers face challenges
Eric Musecamp, president of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta and executive director of the Alberta Farmworkers Service Centre, hopes a recently made CBC Radio 1 “Doc Project” documentary about the FUA serves to raise awareness of the challenges injured farmworkers still face in the province despite recent reforms.
Part of the documentary covers the case of a worker who had injured himself in a farm accident and tried unsuccessfully for four years to appeal a Workers Compensation Board decision through official channels which had cut him off from assistance, despite the fact his injury had never been rehabilitated properly. At wits end, and on the verge of losing his home, the worker came to Musecamp.
“Jacob Neufeld was injured at work a little over four years ago when a 2,000-pound big square bale fell on him and kind of squashed him,” said Musecamp.
“He just fell through the cracks and didn’t get proper treatment and proper diagnosis, and was quickly cut off of WCB without being rehabilitated. He wasn’t able to manoeuvre the system to get his coverage back. And for four years he languished without treatment and income.
“He was the patriarch of a fairly large family and he couldn’t find help. He had been to his MLA. He had been to the Injured Workers Resource Centre. He had been to the appeals people at WCB, and other places to try to get help, and they just weren’t able to help him.”
“He came to our office in Bow Island about eight months ago,” added Musecamp. “It was bad. He was severely depressed and in financial ruin. He was about to lose his house and he was in utter despair.”
Musecamp jumped in to help, and was finally successful in getting Neufeld’s WCB coverage reinstated just before Christmas.
“This is exactly the sort of thing we are trying to fight against,” said Musecamp. “I think he fell through the cracks because it was part of the previous ethos at WCB under the previous government. The WCB at that time prided themselves on having the lowest employer premiums in the country, and they also bragged of having the shortest claim interval in the country. In my opinion, part of the reason they were able to make that boast is because they put workers off WCB as quickly as they could, and sometimes improperly. That is what I feel happened in Jacob’s case.”
Musecamp said while Alberta has come a long way in the past four years to bring it in line with other jurisdictions in terms of farmworker safety standards, there is still more to do.
Food, beverage expo growing
The Alberta Food & Beverage Expo made its way back to Lethbridge recently, to let the public try out a large variety of local and international restaurants and liquor creators.
What started as a single show in Lethbridge seven years ago has now expanded into three other cities, with more expansion coming, and draws around 7,000 people to the single-day event. Originally starting out at the Enmax Centre with about 40 booths, the expo grew into the main pavilion at Exhibition Park, hosting over 200 booths for the public to explore.
“This is a combination of micro breweries, restaurants, vineyards and distilleries from all over the world and locals representing their business and products,” says Chris Meilleur, Owner of Alberta Food & Beverage Expo. “It is a marketing opportunity for the businesses to meet the consumers and for the consumers to meet the business and to meet the people behind it, try some new products and try things they they wouldn’t try on a regular basis.”
The expo allows consumers to try products they haven’t heard of, or had the chance to, as well as a way for businesses to expand their markets to unknown consumers and retailers. For local liquor stores, the expo is a great way for them to find new products to stock their shelves with, teach employees more about the wide-range of liquors and to mingle with industry partners.
Fugitive in court
April Dawn Irving hid her face behind a white piece of paper as she appeared in court by closed-circuit TV Thursday from the Lethbridge Correctional Centre.
After nearly three years on the run, Irving, 59, was finally apprehended by police in Manitoba earlier this week. Thursday’s court appearance was her first since her arrest after being returned to Lethbridge to stand trial.
The former Milk River resident is still facing animal cruelty and neglect charges dating back to January 2015 when she had more than 200 dogs taken from her property. Many of the dogs were reported by officials as emaciated, dirty, dehydrated and suffering from various medical and behavioural ailments, and were found under trailers, in outbuildings and outside where they were exposed to cold weather.
Irving’s case made national headlines after the details of the dogs’ condition and her previous record were released. Irving was convicted in 2010 of neglect when 82 dogs were seized from her property in Foam Lake, Sask. She also had several dogs seized in 2007 in Fort McMurray.