Vernon city council votes in favour of BC Housing opening 20 emergency winter beds on Oct. 28, 2019, to serve street entrenched population. (Lisa Mazurek - Morning Star files)

20 emergency winter beds for Vernon homeless

Mayor writes to BC Housing for help after learning shelters already turning away people

Twenty emergency winter shelter beds from BC Housing will be open for people in the former Gateway building experiencing homelessness in Vernon following the city council meeting on Monday, Oct. 28.

“Shelters are already turning people away,” Mayor Victor Cumming said, noting after he learned this, he sent a one-paragraph letter to BC Housing for assistance and received prompt word “indicating willingness to open a temporary winter shelter.”

The temporary shelter at 2800-33rd Street will run Nov. 1 and end on March 31, 2020, BC Housing said. The site will be accessible 24-7 and food services will be provided.

“We are aware that there can be neighbourhood impacts and our goal is to always mitigate that wherever possible,” supportive housing advisor Matthew Camirand wrote in his letter to mayor and council.

Vernon’s chief administrative officer Will Pearce said there is approximately 160 people who are experiencing homelessness according to preliminary findings of the latest homeless count that took place on Oct. 16, 2019 — findings are to come before councillors in November.

Of those 160, approximately 20 still require beds, the mayor said.

“The additional proposed 20 emergency beds will help accommodate some of those folks that are without shelter right now,” Pearce said.

But councillors Brian Quiring, Scott Anderson and Dalvir Nahal had concerns.

Coun. Anderson said additional services are not attracting homeless people or poor people, but people who are “prone to causing trouble.”

“It seems we’re creating more of a problem by creating more services,” Coun. Anderson said. “We’re becoming an experimental ground for BC Housing. It’s not fair for the people of this city.”

Coun. Anderson’s statements echoed those of his colleague.

“We tell everyone in the neighbourhood that everything is temporary and then we just keep landing on into that neighbourhood,” Coun. Quiring said. “Every time we add 20 beds, 40 more come.”

“I’m not having a hard time with the concept (of adding more beds), Mr. Mayor, I’m having trouble with the location.”

“We’re consolidating a specific group in one area and it was a problem and we said, ‘bear with us,’ and ‘it’s temporary,’ and now it’s becoming permanent and expanding,” Coun. Quiring said. “I don’t think it’s fair at all.”

But Coun. Quiring voted in favour of the motion to accept the emergency beds from BC Housing, to be operated by Turning Points Collaborative Society 24-7. Councillors Nahal and Anderson voted in opposition.

Coun. Kelly Fehr had recused himself as he is the co-executive director of Turning Points.

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Caitlin.clow@vernonmorningstar.com

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