Clients and staff at the Vernon Curling Club, the city’s temporary shelter, in front of the community garden they helped create. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Clients and staff at the Vernon Curling Club, the city’s temporary shelter, in front of the community garden they helped create. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Clients at temporary Vernon shelter build community garden

“There was nothing here before … Nobody stopped to see its potential beauty”

What was once merely a patch of dirt has been transformed into beautified space outside the Vernon Curling Club.

The curling rink itself underwent a transformation in April, when multiple shelters were amalgamated to help mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19 among those experiencing homelessness in the city.

Thanks to a beautification project that was self-directed by some of its temporary residents, the rink now has a flower garden to brighten the exterior. It’s a resounding improvement from the unsightly patch of ground it replaced, and with perennials planted it’s an improvement that will remain well after the shelter is vacated at the end of August.

“Initially this was a dried up piece of dirt that was being used as a garbage dump, essentially,” said Bob Crozier, a resident at the shelter who saw the project unfold from the beginning.

“It’s cool anytime you can see people finding some purpose with something, particularly if it’s creative and something that they enjoy doing.”

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Tovah was one of two clients at the temporary shelter who helped initiate the project. Gardening is a pastime she shared with her grandmother, and her daily tending to the new garden strengthens her memories of those days. Her grandmother’s garden gnomes now keep watch of the space she helped create.

For Tovah, the garden outside the shelter is symbolic of people it currently houses.

“There was nothing here before, it just looked like weeds and garbage. Nobody stopped to see its potential beauty,” said Tovah.

“I think there’s a lesson here: don’t write something off just because you can’t see the potential,”

Site manager Nicole Norrish says the garden project didn’t just benefit the front entrance of the curling rink; more important was its effects on the people who got involved.

“This has become very much point of pride for the staff and the clients, and the people who have helped transform the outside here,” Norrish said.

“They even say that gardening, that getting in the dirt, is amazing for your mental health and that it helps your body to release serotonin.”

That could explain why, as Crozier noticed, some of the residents have begun cleaning up city-owned gardens in the area when the curling rink patch has already been tended to.

“This is what results when you give people some stability, some security and a sense of community,” Crozier said. “When you stigmatize people or you pass judgment on them, you don’t help strengthen the community.”

The temporary shelter was created in collaboration between Turning Points Collaborative Society, Interior Health and BC Housing. Vernon was the first city in the province to amalgamate its emergency shelters to better protect those experiencing homelessness from COVID-19.

Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
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