“The people of Vernon have waited long enough, it’s time for action.”
The words from the Activate Safety Task Force chairman Darrin Taylor summed up the sense of urgency behind the recommendations made to city council Monday afternoon.
Taylor presented the eight key areas which the force outlines in its final report, including 40 recommendations, alongside a packed council chamber. Homelessness, poverty, addiction and criminal behaviour have created issues for the local business community, which is what the force has sought to address in the following areas:
2. Drug use and prevention
3. Improperly discarded needles
4. Litter and urban decay
5. Defecation in public areas
6. Shopping carts
8. The relationship between social service providers and neighbouring businesses
Among the many suggestions, Taylor urged council to adopt a policy that Vernon will not stand for open drug use and crime.
“The city of Penticton is battling a similar issue and administration has stepped up with zero tolerance,” he said. “Setting the tone could possibly happen in short order. Currently, it sounds like Penticton has that in order.”
Specific issues include Interior Health’s plans for a safe injection site in Vernon.
“The unspoken fear is that those sites will open without any notice,” said Taylor, specifically for those living nearby.
The abundance of needles being found around town prompted the need for drop-off containers, which Interior Health has access to. The force was told that funding is available for two of such containers and Taylor urged council to match those two containers.
“Even four doesn’t sound like enough.”
A bounty could also be implemented — five cents for each needle turned in.
“Kamloops actually had such a program implemented two weeks ago,” said Taylor. “This program in the first eight days collected 6,000 needles.”
Other garbage strewn about town has led to urban decay.
“It’s not a new problem but it’s a problem that’s gotten worse,” Taylor said.
Suggestions include a change in garbage pickup times so that businesses don’t have to leave garbage out at night for early morning pickups.
Another mess — defecation and urination — needs to be addressed with facilities in the core area, said Taylor, adding that it could be funded from the 1.99 per cent infrastructure levy.
Shopping carts also litter the area, which the force suggests businesses can help combat by ensuring they all have theft-deterrent devices and that those being discarded are not accessible.
The city was also asked to facilitate mediation between social service providers and surrounding businesses/residents that are strained by the impact of these issues.
With the urgency to deal with the situation, several Vernon councillors agreed that many of these items could be acted on immediately.
“It’s not going to be easy implementing these as a lot of costs are associated,” said Coun. Catherine Lord. “But there are some really low-hanging things on here that can be implemented quickly.”
Coun. Brian Quiring requested that staff bring a report back to the next council meeting.
While he admitted that “we can always do a better job,” Quiring noted that the same situation is a lot worse in other communities.
“We know we have a problem. The reason the problem isn’t worse is the service providers, RCMP and bylaw are doing their job,” said Quiring.
Taylor agrees that Vernon is doing a terrific job, but more is needed.
“Do we stand back and say ‘every community has these problems, we’re doing lots, it could be worse?’”
“I’m hopeful we can do better. We can love the individual and we can hate the behaviour.”
Coun. Dalvir Nahal asked Taylor, an addictions specialist: “Is there something that we’re missing?”
The short answer, according to Taylor, is yes, due to the lack of immediate, long-term treatment that is not available for addicts.
“We’re dropping the ball on helping those patients get well.”
Coun. Juliette Cunningham defends that there are plans in place thanks address the issue of homelessness and housing.
“Really, until you can get a roof over someone’s head and deal with these issues, it’s going to be very challenging.”