Vernon councillor proposes homeless campers use city hall grounds

Click to play video: 'Vernon councillor wants  Polson Park camping ban' Vernon councillor wants Polson Park camping ban
A Vernon city councillor is arguing the city’s landmark park has become an eyesore. Coun. Scott Anderson is proposing a ban on homeless camps in the park and suggesting campers should be able to use city hall grounds instead. – Nov 13, 2019

A Vernon city councillor is suggesting homeless campers should be allowed to use city hall property to set up their tents overnight instead of Polson Park.

Coun. Scott Anderson is arguing ending camping in Polson Park would clean up the park and symbolically show residents of Vernon that the municipal government is willing to do its part to address the challenges the city is facing.

READ MORE: Homeless camps being dismantled in Vernon

However, some who camp in the park believe the proposed changes would create more problems than they would solve.

In order to comply with the spirit of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that struck down Abbotsford bylaws on the use of a city park by homeless people, Vernon’s rules allow homeless people to put up temporary shelters like tents in many city parks when “no accessible shelter accommodation (is) available.”

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However, there are some exceptions. Homeless campers are not allowed to set up in five city parks, including on city hall grounds and on the recreation centre property and shelters can only be set up at dusk and must be taken down by 9 a.m.

READ MORE: Kelowna homeless encampment frustrates local landowner

Anderson would like to change those rules not only by shifting camping at Polson Park to City Hall, but also by changing the hours when temporary shelters are allowed to 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

He views the park as “Vernon’s jewel” and points out the landmark is part of many visitors first impressions of the city.

However, Anderson is concerned about the impact of camping on the park which he believes creates an “eyesore.”

“The area directly adjacent to the fountain has become a favoured camping ground for the street entrenched population, who leave a large, tarped mound of possessions during the day, around which open drug use is witnessed daily,” Anderson said in a statement to media.

“It’s become both an eyesore and a burden on our bylaw and RCMP officers, and it’s time we did something about it.”

Anderson believes the solution is to ban camping at the park but allow it at city hall instead to “protect Polson Park and adjacent businesses while at the same time allowing those members of society who want to live outdoors a place to stay overnight.”

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READ MORE: New Vernon homeless campsite brings concerns over crime and drugs

“My hope in inviting the street entrenched population to City Hall is that Vernonites will understand that we all share the burden created by drug addiction and mental illness,” Anderson said in his release.

However, Anderson would need support from other city councillors to institute the proposed changes.

Coun. Akbal Mund argues allowing camping at City Hall contradicts previous recommendations that suggested the city should try to move the street entrenched community out of the downtown core.

Mund argues the move would not help move the camps away from businesses.

READ MORE: West Kelowna man found dead in homeless camp

Meanwhile, some of those who live in the park are also critical of the proposals arguing they would create more problems.

Camper Jordan Hemnelgarn said changing the hours for camping to 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. would be “absolutely ridiculous” as in the winter it is already dark by 7 p.m.

He argues the time change would create a hazard for people who would be setting up their tents in cold, dark conditions and that the earlier tear-down deadline would create a situation where people are forced to get up earlier with nowhere to go.

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“We would have to be up by 6:30, 6 o’clock in the morning where it is still pitch dark in the winter, with the cold,” Hemnelgarn said.

“The mission is not open till later for breakfast so the two-hour gap between would be very harmful in a way to the city.”

Hemnelgarn pointed out that being in a tent with blankets helps people to stay warm until other buildings open during the day.

READ MORE: Return of homeless camp in Vernon highlights need for more housing options

He argues moving camping to City Hall would be “unfair” to campers as at Polson Park there is more space.

“We have more room to be away from each other, that way the groups aren’t so close, for people who have conflict with each other,” he said.

City council is expected to discuss Anderson’s proposal at its next meeting later this month.

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