Camps gain compassion

A social advocate believes Vernon can avoid conflicts with the homeless through a co-operative approach

A social advocate believes Vernon can avoid conflicts with the homeless through a co-operative, compassionate approach.

A judge recently ruled that Abbotsford’s ban  against the homeless sleeping in parks violates the Charter of Rights to security of persons.

“We have a protocol to deal with our campers that is respectful,” said Annette Sharkey, with Vernon’s Social Planning Council.

The Social Planning Council, the City of Vernon and other agencies have a long-standing committee that tries to connect the homeless with services they need, including housing.

Information is also provided to occupants of homeless camps on how to keep their sites clean and avoid problems with the broader community.

“I have to give credit to Clint Kanester, the manager of the city’s bylaw department for being a leader.  This is a very unique partnership between bylaws and community outreach workers and not every city approaches homeless camps with this kind of collaboration,” said Sharkey.

While Abbotsford’s ban on sleeping in parks was squashed, the judge didn’t permit permanent encampments on city land.

“The judgement brings to light the crisis the province is in with the lack of affordable housing,” said Sharkey.

A census was conducted recently and six homeless camps were found in Vernon, up from three during the spring.

“When we started in 2009, there were 30 camps and we have hovered between three and five in the last few years,” said Sharkey.

The increase in camps may be partially a result of the closure of the Green Valley Motel and its tenants not finding new residences.

“We are also seeing more hot spots and party spots in public places,” said Sharkey. “With the Green Valley closure, we are seeing more of that activity in our parks.”

While pleased with the collaborative community approach to homelessness, Sharkey admits more needs to be done in Vernon.

“There are times when the shelter is full and people may not have a choice but to sleep outside,” she said. “We are still in need of more supported housing, in particular for women.”