With the winter months closing in, a pair of groups were at Galt Gardens to raise awareness for the homeless situation in Lethbridge on Saturday afternoon.
Members of Kindness To Others and Community Giving Back To Community were at Galt Gardens handing out sandwiches to the homeless and raising awareness for a drop-in centre for those in need.
“Today we are with some members of the community,” said Alvin Mills, a peer support worker with Bringing Home The Spirit in Standoff. “We want to feed the at-risk and vulnerable who struggle here in the city. We also want to bring to light what they go through and what they are going to be going through when the weather gets cold. I do see a real need for a drop-in facility here in the city. During the day they have nowhere to go and a lot of them are getting sick being out in the elements.
“Then with the opioid crisis it enhances things. With the outreach service we started with Bringing Home The Spirit, we have been able to work in partnership with Alpha House, Alberta Health Services, Streets Alive and the Watch Program.”
Mills said Saturday’s initiative was a street-level approach to reaching those who need help.
“This is just the first step and sometimes they’ll follow through. Sometimes you just have to show that you care and you have to have that feeling of empathy regardless of the choices that they make. They should still be afforded that same dignity.”
Mills said a shelter has been opened in Standoff.
“They’ve stepped up in a big way opening up that shelter. So that’s another way of how we can get the ones struggling here in Lethbridge back out there.”
In July, the Province of Alberta announced a capital investment to support the construction of two recovery communities in southern Alberta, one of them a 75-bed recovery community on the Blood Reserve in Standoff.
“We have to fill those beds, especially with the weather getting colder,” said Mills. “This is the first step in recovery and we have to start filling up those beds.”
On the Blood Reserve, Kainai Wellness manager Roger Prairie Chicken noted some concerning numbers.
“What is happening within the reserve is basically the opiate process is still creating a lot of problems and deaths within the families on the reserve,” he said. “We are averaging about 12 DOAs a month and I would say 70 or 80 per cent of that is drug-related deaths and the age process is roughly 30 years and up. If you go back in time when this started, I would say, in 2018 and 2019, I believe we’ve had 46 or 47 each year, average DOAs. In 2019 and 2020 we went up to 118 deaths. That was when opioids really peaked out.
“Now we are at a stage where we have had 99 deaths in the last fiscal year, but again the numbers are still really high. I would say almost 85 per cent of that is alcohol- and prescription-related DOAs.”
Prairie Chicken said the numbers need to be shared by the public.
“It has to start from the grassroots in the family situations, educating them and moving them forward,” he said. “You can’t resolve it with Band-Aid solutions and Band-Ad processes. These people are humans and they need help with their addictions. It’s an illness and it must be understood that way.”
Over the weekend, Blood Tribe Police Service issued a warning about of a highly concentrated batch of drugs. BTPS and Blood Tribe EMS responded to an alarming amount of overdoses over 24 hours. Since noon Friday there were 15 overdoses that police and EMS have attended. There was been one death that is not considered suspicious, an autopsy will determine cause of death.
On Saturday afternoon Prairie Chicken commended Mills for his work with the street people.
“These are our people from the Blood Tribe and different areas and our hearts and our prayers go out to the families.”
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Dale Woodard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald