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Vernon council rejects proposal to allow homeless camps at city hall

Click to play video: 'Vernon won’t open up city hall grounds to homeless campers' Vernon won’t open up city hall grounds to homeless campers
Vernon won’t open up city hall grounds to homeless campers – Nov 26, 2019

The majority of Vernon City Council shot down a proposal to allow homeless campers to use city hall property instead of a popular public park.

The idea was part of Councillor Scott Anderson’s proposal to take back Polson Park for taxpayers, but others argued it would simply move the problems somewhere else.

READ MORE: ‘We are unable to operate downtown’: 2 more businesses relocating over Kelowna’s homelessness crisis

“If we are looking at the value of giving Polson Park back to the citizens of Vernon so they can enjoy it without worrying about needles and everything else, that far outweighs the inconvenience of bringing it here,” said Anderson as he argued in favour of the idea.

“It is simply not fair to the taxpayer of Vernon to be subjected to needles, stacks of possessions covered in tarps, shopping carts, open public toilets and open drug use during the day.”

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Click to play video: 'Vernon residents pack town hall meeting to debate safe injection site' Vernon residents pack town hall meeting to debate safe injection site
Vernon residents pack town hall meeting to debate safe injection site – Jun 5, 2019

Anderson wanted city hall to be seen sharing the burden of Vernon’s challenges. In the end, though, he couldn’t convince his council colleagues to vote for the plan.

“Transferring it from one location to another is not going to fix this problem,” said councillor Kari Gares.

“You are simply going to be passing it off to a whole host of other businesses that are going to have to contend with those issues.”

Ultimately, only Anderson voted to support opening city hall property to campers and the motion was defeated.

Debate highlights council divide

The debate highlighted a divide on council over the nature of Vernon’s homelessness problem and how to fix it.

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Anderson argued the core problem is drug addiction and mental illness, not poverty and a lack of housing.

WATCH: New conflict over homeless in Surrey

“Housing is not going to solve the problem. The only viable solution to this issue is addiction treatment and permanent facilities for mental health problems,” Anderson said.

“Both of which are hugely expensive, under provincial jurisdiction and frankly far out of reach of municipalities, financially.”

Click to play video: 'Forum tackles homelessness, crime and addiction in Vernon' Forum tackles homelessness, crime and addiction in Vernon
Forum tackles homelessness, crime and addiction in Vernon – Apr 6, 2018

However, the city’s mayor argued that while more services are needed, providing housing is the answer.

“Housing first is the answer with significant wraparound services. We continue to provide that in Vernon and we continue to have success with it,” Mayor Victor Cumming said.

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“Do we have enough capacity? No. We are about halfway there. We have articulated that very clearly to the [provincial] Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.”

Vernon homeless census count released

As the debate over how best to approach the issue continues, fall’s homeless census numbers were also presented to council on Monday.

The count done in October found 151 homeless people in the city, down 10 from last year.

However, the number of people counted sleeping outside was almost cut in half, from 40 last year to 22 this year.

READ MORE: Leon Avenue tent city residents, homeless advocates rally for affordable housing in Kelowna

The head of Vernon’s Social Planning Council, which is involved in the count and coordinating social services in Vernon, told council that both more treatment and more supportive housing would help.

However, Annette Sharkey argued the city should follow a housing first approach.

“Mental health and substance use services won’t be successful if you don’t add housing,” she told council.

“It is about bringing someone inside so they are not hungry, they are not cold, they are not in crisis and they can actually access programs and services.”

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