LETHBRIDGE - The emotional impact the drug crisis has had on Lethbridge citizens has been so significant, it was the top issue cited in a report put together by consultants and facilitators Robin Parsons and Dave Robertson who were hired by the City to disseminate the information gathered.
More than 1500 pieces of data were collected over two days Oct. 10 and 11, during four community meetings that encouraged locals from all walks of like to share their experiences over the last couple of years. In total, 288 people took part in the meetings.
The report found that emotional impact, followed by a loss of or impact on business, a decrease in safety, cost and resources required to deal with the crisis, the increase in crime and the needle debris were the top concerns people expressed.
According to the report, many who participated in the meetings had a feeling of helplessness about the overall situation, a loss for 'what used to be,' and undesirable changes to the community. Consultant Robin Parsons says the meetings succeeded in eliciting the feedback the city was looking for.
"For the community of Lethbridge, it's been dramatic and impactful and there's a sense of 'oh my goodness, our world has changed, and not in a way that we love.' In terms of what we can do about it, the community identified a breadth of solutions."
Some of those solutions included more resources to enforce the law and added concentration on addressing drug trafficking, and a justice system that needed to take a stronger stand against drug trafficking by imposing stiffer sentences. More services, both integrated and consolidated, improved access to housing and either closing, or relocating the Supervised Consumption Site were also mentioned numerous times.
A few of the more innovative solutions included grassroots engagement, like citizens getting out in their community to make it a point to visit local businesses and simply not letting fear override them. Another was engaging in ‘safe walk’ sessions where someone may accompany another who may not feel safe in a particular area, or at a particular time of day.
The top issues identified for resolution included a lack of services for those who are suffering from addiction, a lack of law enforcement and prosecution, a lack of accountability and the root causes of the crisis either not understood or addressed.
While Robertson said there was a sense of urgency expressed amongst citizens to come up with solutions in a short period of time, he cautioned against ‘knee-jerk reactions’ that could potentially leave the city unable to change its approach to the crisis, should circumstances begin to change.
“I would caution council to be diligent about keeping up effort in the interim. Not to rush the conversation. Because you will miss opportunities for innovation. You will miss opportunities to engage citizens at the grassroots actually doing things that might make a difference.”
And Parsons echoed those sentiments.
“It’s going to take a cross-engagement; communities, agencies, organizations to come together to solve some of the problems. And so, that’s not a ‘snap’ thing that happens. So, the next step is intended to be pulling all of these folks together to say ‘and what can we do together’ so that we can start to close some of the gaps that the citizens perceived, and how services are offered and delivered. So that’s, I think, a little bit of the tension between, ‘we’ve got a problem right now’ and ‘it takes a bit of time.’ Because the problem we’ve got right now is not a simple problem.”
Of note in the report, were voices that the facilitators were hoping would be included in the meetings for feedback, but who didn’t participate. They included indigenous perspectives, feedback from those who use the Supervised Consumption Site, and emergency services and law enforcement.
Councillors and/or politicians, either local or provincial, were not asked to take part in the sessions.
The meetings were part of a three-phase approach the city is taking to try and come up with solutions to the growing drug crisis in the city.
Phase 1 includes the impact the crisis has had on citizens, Phase 2 will utilise a newly formed multi-agency group to come together and develop a strategy, while Phase 3 will help the community build the terms of reference for the strategy going forward.
Strategy sessions will be held Nov. 26 and 27 with a variety of stakeholders, community groups and citizens, and the terms of reference could be established by Dec. 17.
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