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Downtown Lethbridge BRZ speaks amid tensions between ARCHES and businesses

July 9, 2019

Local businesses are unhappy with ARCHES, the Supervised Safe-consumption & Injection Site (SSCIS). Downtown Lethbridge BRZ says the city needs to do more harm reduction for drug users before harm towards businesses can be reduced.

The tension has been ongoing since the SSCIS opened last year.  Businesses surrounding the facility say they have seen an increase in crime, loitering, drug use and violence, and it’s keeping workers and customers away.

Executive director for the Downtown Lethbridge BRZ, Ted Stilson says 2018 was exceptionally hard for the downtown community because of the opening of the SSCIS, and new parking rules which came into effect both in that year. He says the Downtown BRZ was quick to act on concerns from local businesses.  “Very rapidly, the City of Lethbridge responded.” says Stilson  "They came out with the 2019 Downtown Clean & Safe Strategy and initiatives that’s definitely made it better in the downtown in that short period of time."

Stilson says  "matching funding" subsidy was provided to neighbouring business owner Doug Hamilton, of Hamilton’s Carpet One Floor and Home to purchase exterior lighting and motion detecting cameras.  Hamilton has come under fire from ARCHES and community members that support the site for using his surveillance equipment to livestream his footage to social media, which contain images of ARCHES’ clientele.  In a Facebook post, ARCHES says the purpose of Hamilton’s posts are to “shame and dehumanize people who are already vulnerable, marginalized and living in a cycle of judgment.”  Backlash towards Hamilton was far-reaching and resulted in dozens of threats online, by telephone, to this company’s head office, and by email.  These include four death threats, which Lethbridge Police confirm they are investigating.

While the Downtown Clean & Safe Strategy (which include The Watch Program, Diversion Outreach Team, and needle debris collection programs) is making a difference, according to Stilson, he says that more needs to happen in the area of harm reduction before things in the area can improve more for businesses.  In his view, change will not be better "until the other pillars of harm reduction are in place:  detox, intox, and supportive housing.”

ARCHES and Hamilton have agreed to meet to discuss their concerns.  Both parties are hopeful for a peaceful resolution.