LETHBRIDGE - Admitting that it is "late to the party," Lethbridge City Council has voted to approve the creation of a new ad hoc committee to develop an urgent action plan to address a variety of issues surrounding the drug and opioid crisis in the city.
At Tuesday’s meeting, council debated the resolution brought forward to create the committee, which is expected to consist of three members of council, including the City Manager or designate, members of the ARCHES Board of Directors, the business community, and citizens at large, among others.
"Council is definitely late to the conversation on this one," acknowledged Councillor Jeffrey Coffman. "However, we have a responsibility to the community and we do have to step up and recognize where we can lead, and this is definitely an issue where we have to bring everybody together."
The Executive Leader's Coalition on Opioid Use was established in November of 2016 and is made up of 16 local organizations, including AHS, Lethbridge Police Service, Alberta Justice, ARCHES, EMS, post secondary and other groups. A committee lead by Mayor Chris Spearman also looks at the harm-reduction component of the opioid crisis.
According to a news release, the new ad hoc committee will be established with prevention, harm reduction, enforcement and treatment in mind, and is expected to broadly address the challenges and opportunities facing residents, businesses and clients.
The Terms of Reference will be drafted and presented to City Council August 20.
"This committee will actually look at strategies and opportunities we can undertake to address the issue; find positive solutions, find ways of helping those in need, helping those that are being impacted by it as well," says Coffman.
Three meetings will also be held, to develop a time sensitive and implementable community response strategy. All stakeholders and interested community members will be invited to take part in the process.
Coffman says the money required to fund the initiative will come from Council Contingencies.
Councillor Joe Mauro asked what exactly was going to be achieved by creating the additional committee.
"The reason I'm asking that, we heard clearly from the manager of ARCHES that it doesn't matter what we do... they're going to continue to do what it is they believe is their right and continue on doing what they think is best for the addicts and the activity that is going on.
"It seems to me that we're trying to save face by putting this committee together for something that has already been done."
Coffman responded that Councillor Rob Miyashiro's original notice of motion included a component to host several community meetings focused on finding solutions to the drug-related behaviour and its impacts in Lethbridge's downtown core and in the neighborhood of the Supervised Consumption Site.
"It's a very much better late than never," said Coffman. "This is about getting people on the ground, working together towards solutions, towards identifying how we can move forward as a community and I agree that this should not have happened two months ago, but eight months ago. Maybe a year ago."
A resolution was also passed 5-2 for Council to request the Lethbridge Police Commission to present options to provide an enhanced model of public safety for citizens, taking into consideration those struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
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