A shopping cart action team for the City of Vernon will push forward once donation of carts are secured.
The team has been created in conjunction with Partners In Action and the Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP to address the issue of abandoned and stolen shopping carts by the street-entrenched population.
“We want to identify the extent of the shopping carts currently in use by the homeless population and develop and alternative option,” said Annette Sharkey, executive director of the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan, to Vernon council Monday.
The groups are hoping to land decommissioned shopping carts from a local supermarket chain but Sharkey said the carts have to be the same size and brand in order to fit in storage being supplied by Vernon’s Upper Room Mission.
The shopping cart program would be targeted through the Mission and would be a pilot project.
“There would be clients known to service providers and it would be monitored,” said Sharkey. “We want to change the attitude of ‘it’s just a shopping cart,’” said Sharkey. “We’re trying to switch the perception with people using carts that they shouldn’t be using stolen property, and we can hopefully provide something that is monitored and we can work closely with them.
“I’m not sure we can change attitudes but we’d like to try.”
The topic came up during a meeting last week, hosted by the newly created Activate Safety Task Force, who met with downtown business owners to discuss a variety of issues and concerns regarding the street-entrenched population.
Coun. Brian Quiring, along with colleague Scott Anderson, sit on the task force and attended the meeting.
“I struggle with this one (issue),” said Quiring. “I see value in the program. But if all the abandoned and deteriorated shopping carts were gone, and you have a fleet of recognizable carts given to certain people in the homeless community, that might work but it would come with a whole bunch of other problems because it’s selective.”
Sharkey said the team is open to feedback, and reiterated the cart program would be a pilot project for a certain period of time.
“If there are ramifications beyond what we hope for, we have the flexibility to cancel the program,” said Sharkey.
The Camp Okanagan Outreach Liaison (COOL) team continues to monitor homeless camps in Vernon, and have been doing so for the past 10 years, for safety and health issues.
Sharkey said the camps remain small and scattered throughout the community.
“It’s estimated there are 20 to 25 people still sleeping outside on a regular basis,” she said.
Kelly Fehr, co-executive director of the John Howard Society in Vernon, said more housing options are on the way.
Our Place, a 46-bed shelter for men and women, is being constructed and is scheduled to open in June, though Fehr said a “closer-to-July” opening is likely. A new apartment building is being constructed that would house 52 fully supported residents.
Current shelters, Gateway and Howard House, said Fehr, have been pretty much full every night in the winter. A temporary winter shelter at Gateway, which had 13 mats, closed April 1. There are still 20 beds at Howard House for the temporary winter program.
“Closing the one at Gateway was done two-fold,” said Fehr. “Funding for programs has been just for the winter. We’ve been monitoring the occupancy and throughout all the shelter programs, we’ve been averaging eight-to-nine empty beds over the last three weeks, so that’s why we decided to close those 13 beds.”
Fehr said occupancy rates continue to be monitored. He also expressed optimism that B.C. Housing would “probably fund” the extra 20 mats at Howard House until the new shelter opens.
“Then we’ll transfer them off the floor of the Howard House and into the beds at the new shelter,” he said.
Coun. Anderson requested that a homeless census be conducted in the summer months, along with ones done in spring and fall.