Use of Vernon parks by homeless campers sparks debate

Last month the City of Vernon took action to stop a homeless camp in Polson Park from becoming permanent.

The city passed a bylaw allowing homeless people to camp in many of the city’s parks, when they can’t get into a shelter, but requiring them to pack up each morning.

Since then, the homeless have found new places to camp. One of those camping sites is highly visible because it is in a linear park along 25 Avenue a major roadway.

That’s now sparking a lot of public debate with some arguing it is making other users of the park feel unsafe and it is not an appropriate place for camping.

READ MORE: Vernon cracking down on Polson Park homeless camps

Vernon resident Dean Roosevelt points out there is a monument to the Dragoons not far from where the campers are staying.

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“The proximity of this, I believe, diminishes that tribute,” said Roosevelt.

Meanwhile, campers feel they are constantly getting pushed from one area of the city to another.

“If they give us housing, something we can afford through social services, then I’m sure 90 per cent of us would do that,” said Mike Samoleski, one of the people camping in the linear park.

READ MORE: Vernon requires homeless camps to be packed up daily

As the city tries to balance often conflicting interests it also needs to follow the law.

“Like everyone, we are bound by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These folks have a right to shelter in public places where no shelter beds are available,” said Geoff Gaucher, the city’s manager of protective services.

“I know this is a topic of discussion between mayor, council and our social agencies to see what solutions we can find.”

The city said they are seeing about five or six tents in the linear park at a time. The city said the bylaw officers are visiting the camp near 25 Avenue to ensure campers are not leaving their shelters up during the day.

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