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‘I thought it was going to get better, not worse’: Vernon Homeless Memorial

Progress static at 10th annual event with more people dying on the streets
The Greater Vernon Homeless Memorial at Polson Park commemorates those lost to the homelessness and drug epidemic. It will be moving to a new spot in 2024. (Bowen Assman- Morning Star Photo)

It was 2013 when Rev. Chuck Harper conceived the idea of a tribute to those lost in homelessness and the drug epidemic across the city.

Now 10 years later, he was disheartened to see of the lack of progress in fixing it.

“I thought it was going to get better, not worse,” Harper said. “We have to change how we think.”

Harper’s speech at the 10th annual Homeless Memorial at Polson Park on Thursday, Oct. 12, was heard by close to 50 people in attendance.

Among them were representatives from the Upper Room Mission, Vernon Community Safety Office, Vernon Coun. Kelly Fehr, MP Mel Arnold, Turning Points Collaborative Society and the North Okanagan Community Chaplaincy.

Fehr spoke, expressing dismay for the increase in those experiencing homelessness.

“I’m tired of coming here and seeing people pass away,” said Fehr, who also works for Turning Points. “I’m tired of seeing people’s tears. We must work and heal as a community to be relentless advocates for the marginalized in our community. Our voices must be heard.”

The B.C. government recently released Vernon’s homeless count with 279 people experiencing homelessness in 2022, up 55 from 2021.

“Our theme this year is turn this life around,” said Harper. “Each person we see we have to think of how to turn their life around.”

After speeches and music, individuals gathered to lay flowers on the plaque to commemorate those lost.

The plaque is new this year, after the first one started “showing its age.”

Harper also announced that that the Greater Vernon homeless memorial rock will be moving to a new location in 2024, as Vernon park crews do work to repair the creek in Polson Park.

It is expected to be moved several feet away, to the other side of the creek.

“This spot is perfect, as behind me is peace, quiet while in front of me (facing Highway 97) is chaos and loudness.”

The Greater Vernon homeless memorial rock was donated at no cost. The John Howard Society deals with repairs on present and future maintenance to the memorial.

READ MORE: Residents pay tribute to city’s homeless

READ MORE: Vernon Homeless Memorial event hits decade mark

Bowen Assman

About the Author: Bowen Assman

I joined The Morning Star team in January 2023 as a reporter. Before that, I spent 10 months covering sports in Kelowna.
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