Homelessness remains local issue

Vernon residents and politicians are being urged not to become complacent over homelessness.

Progress has been made in reducing tent cities, but residents and politicians are being urged not to become complacent over homelessness.

The Cool Team, a group of agencies focused on homelessness, says the number of people living on the street has dropped significantly since 2006.

“This doesn’t mean, though, that we don’t have homelessness,” said Annette Sharkey, Social Planning Council executive director.

“We need to keep working around the affordable housing issue.”

One step that is being taken is to develop a package that provides developers with information on available land and guidelines for affordable units.

Research in 2006 indicated there were 200 homeless people in Vernon.

“Our community was in chaos around homelessness,” said Sharkey.

“Within the city centre and parks, residents were feeling unsafe.”

The situation escalated in the summer of 2007 when a tent city took shape along 32nd Street downtown. That led to some temporary shelters being created, and the Gateway shelter opening permanently in the fall of 2008.

The Cool Team began in early 2009 to connect the homeless to services and to address public concerns.

“It’s amazing what we can do when we all work together as a team,” said Rachael Zubick, with Community Policing, one of the team’s partners.

In June 2009, there were 30 homeless camps in Vernon and that dropped to seven in June 2011. Crime, drug activity, prostitution and alcohol offences have also decreased.

No drug paraphernalia was found in downtown alleys this summer — the first time in a decade.

“Our files are decreasing across the board. We’re not just shoving them around,” said Zubick of finding places to live for the homeless.

At the Gateway shelter, 638 men stayed there in 2010 and it’s projected there will be 746 men this year (344 to date). There have been 112 female clients so far this year and it’s  projected the total number could be 243 by Dec. 31.

The reasons for homelessness vary, including mental health and addiction issues, no family support systems and a lack of employment and affordable housing.

“Fifty-eight per cent who accessed Gateway say they have nowhere else to go,” said Kelly Fehr, shelter manager.

“We are having a big impact on homelessness in the community.”