“It’s just the right thing to do” – Ted Stilson (executive director of Downtown BRZ)

Maybe you’ve heard of Lethbridge’s Clean Sweep Program. It’s a local social initiative — a partnership between Lethbridge’s Downtown Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ), Social Housing in Action (SHIA), the Heart of Our City Committee (HOC), and the City of Lethbridge. The Clean Sweep Program provides homeless individuals an opportunity to contribute to daily cleaning of Lethbridge’s Downtown Core in exchange for a small stipend, development of financial literacy skills (for example, help with resume writing), and social support. Participants are put to work in all seasons, and are responsible for snow removal, surface level planters in the city, garbage pickup, and recently —the safe removal of needles from ‘hotspots’ around the city.

Ted Stilson, the executive director of Lethbridge's Downtown BRZ, stresses the importance of a ‘safe and supportive environment’. An environment where the betterment of the community comes hand in hand with the betterment of the individuals living in it.

With good reason, the Clean Sweep program has been celebrated for its role in social revitalization, but like many avenues of positive change, the program also incorporates environmental stewardship. Every fall, individuals participating in Clean Sweep take the time to sweep the many leaves from our downtown core. In the last two years, leaves have been collected in biodegradable bags and sent to the compost site at the city landfill. This year the bag total was counted at 1,775; the impressive work of about 15-30 individuals.

Moving forward, there are plans in the works to expand the Clean Sweep program into a more formal work environment. Ted speaks of ‘Clean Sweep Phase 2’ which will be a social enterprise and green initiative focused on reclaiming used wood from around the city to build furniture. With funding and support from Social Housing in Action (SHIA), the next phase hopes to employ about 3 individuals full time in a woodworking shop under the supervision of a foreman. Although still in the early stages, Ted hopes to have the pilot project up and running soon, and be producing sustainable, ethically produced reclaimed furniture. Early design ideas are Adirondack chairs and modular shelving units. With support of the community, Ted hopes that the new ‘Pallet Design Company’ can scale up from 3 to possibly 6 full-time employees. Ideally, the enterprise would source wood solely from used pallets around the city, along with other discarded wooden materials. 

The Clean Sweep Program is a good reminder that reducing waste can be a part of, or a start to bigger positive change.

Written by Samuel Gerrand. Photographs courtesy of Ted Stilson and the Downtown BRZ.
Downtown BRZ

A few of the 1,775 bags of leaves to be composted from this fall.

Downtown BRZ
A few Clean Sweep participants on a cold morning.
Downtown BRZThe results of a productive morning.