City council debates temporary shelter bylaws

Issues of homelessness in Vernon’s parks dominated the conversation as city council met Monday

Homelessness in Vernon parks continues to dominate city debate.

Council voted Monday to allow temporary shelter in Polson Park and other designated public spaces from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. when shelter beds are not available, amending the previous recommendation of 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

The change was suggested by Mayor Akbal Mund on the grounds that the Upper Room Mission — a community outreach service that offers up to three meals a day during the week to Vernon’s hungry — opens at 9 a.m.

Council also voted against a recommendation in the bylaw prohibiting the use of shopping carts by those seeking shelter in public spaces.

“I couldn’t support the part about no shopping carts,” said Coun. Juliette Cunningham, adding that some use the carts as a means of carrying their personal belongings. “I think it’s quite discriminatory.”

Coun. Scott Anderson, however, disagreed.

“(In most cases) we’re talking about stolen property,” Andserson said. “Are we really going to support that?”

Council also has a duty to serve citizens, Anderson said, adding that residents have reported being concerned about entering Polson Park because of the camps.

“I haven’t seen a reduction of use in the park,” said Coun. Catherine Lord. “I don’t think that the general public is particularly impacted.”

Council agreed that issues of homelessness need to be dealt with better on a provincial and national level, and that they will continue to look at further lobbying the governments for action.

Coun. Dalvir Nahal says the city should also be taking action.

“At some point we have to take innitiative and do something,” Nahal said, suggesting to council that the city should provide 10 extra shelter beds.

Lord agreed that more needs to be done.

“I think at this moment, they’re (the federal government) not going to fix it,” Lord said. “We should be looking at a way to increase the number of beds.”

Cunningham disagreed with Lord and Nahal about taking matters into their own hands, adding that it is not their responsibility.

“I think it’s a very dangerous road,” Cunningham said.

However, all councillors agreed that more needs to be done to support Vernon’s homeless population through poverty reduction strategies.

“There is no easy solution,” said Coun. Brian Quiring. “It’s a terrible situation.”