City demands action on homelessness

Vernon wants access to federal funding the same as Kelowna and Kamloops

The homeless in Vernon have been bypassed by the feds and city officials are demanding to know why.

City council will ask the Liberal government in Ottawa for a portion of $112 million over two years that is designated for homelessness issues but is currently only earmarked for 61 cities across the country.

“We’re facing a developing problem and we need to address it,” said Coun. Scott Anderson, who raised the issue at Tuesday’s council meeting.

A census in October found six homeless camps in Vernon, up from three last spring.

There’s a possibility that Vernon wasn’t one of the six B.C. communities identified for funding because it’s located between Kamloops and Kelowna, which are recipients. However, Anderson doesn’t accept that argument.

“The ministry has attempted to be fair geographically, and has included Kelowna and Kamloops as major centres in the area.  However, the facts on the ground are that each municipality has its own financial and social microsystem, which means that support to Kelowna or Kamloops does not alleviate the problems in Vernon in any way,” he said.

“The increased joblessness across the country, and especially in the oil sector, means increased homelessness here in the Okanagan now and in the near future.”

Other B.C. communities targeted for assistance are Nanaimo, Nelson, Prince George and Victoria.

Anderson’s motion to write Ottawa for funding was unanimously supported by his colleagues, including Coun. Juliette Cunningham, who has advocated for affordable housing and measures to get people off the street.

“We’ve tried to make a case that we need funding because we are dealing with the same issues as Kamloops and Kelowna,” she said.

“It doesn’t hurt to make a case but it will be a challenge when they’ve already announced the (funding) pocket.”

Mayor Akbal Mund isn’t sure if federal government will amend its policies because adding another city to the list could set a precedent.

“The chances are probably slim because every other community will ask for funding but there’s nothing wrong with asking,” he said.

When an identified community receives a grant, it must be matched with contributions from other sources.

“Funded projects must support priorities identified through a community planning process,” states Employment and Social Development Canada’s website.

With warm weather on its way, it’s anticipated that the number of homelessness could increase in Vernon.

“The Okanagan is a place where people gravitate to,” said Anderson.