Dressed in purple golf shirt and navy shorts, the Vernon senior – speaker No. 11 at an emotional 2.5-hour Vernon council town hall meeting on downtown Vernon issues Tuesday at the Vernon Rec Centre auditorium – strode to the microphone.
He had listened to three women before him, two business owners and a resident of East Hill, scream at Vernon council and to the audience their frustrations over, and solutions to, crime, vagrancy and drug issues in downtown, the meeting’s topic. The trio’s solutions included fully staffed, supervised mental health facilities, accountability and having street people pick up after themselves.
The man shuffled to the microphone, and when asked his name by meeting moderator Ed Grifone of Kelowna-based CTQ Consultants Ltd., he meekly replied “Donald Duck.”
“I’m too afraid to give my name,” said the man, and he never did. He took his allotted two minutes, most of the time spent choking back tears because, he said, he could see why people are losing their tempers. He said Vernon is a community and the “people being s—t upon, they’re human beings.”
“We are not the only town in Canada with this problem but we are turning on ourselves,” said the senior. “Problems are solved by knowledge and by science and by caring, thinking, rational people. We’ve got a problem that lives in every community in Canada. We are not the only one ones. We can’t take our kids anymore to Polson Park, or Needle Park, as it’s now called.”
The man’s solution was to form a task force with representatives from council, Interior Health, federal and provincial government representatives and “not let them off the hook until they appoint someone to get money to solve the problem.”
“Form the group now and don’t let go until you fix it,” he encouraged. “Because you can fix it.”
And then he left the auditorium.
More than 40 people spoke, most with emotion, at the meeting which was aimed at helping council find solutions to the downtown problems.
Many people recommended more police and bylaw officers – “more feet for the beat” as one lady phrased it; provide downtown showers and washrooms for the street population; make it mandatory for businesses to lock dumpsters; get rid of, or move, the Upper Room Mission.
A man named Gerard from Kelowna suggested Vernon’s politicians meet with the homeless.
“They have a voice. I encourage council to access that voice about what is missing and what can be done. The current system is producing results that it was designed for. If you don’t like the results, change the system.”
One woman early in the meeting said solutions offered to that point were merely band-aid items, and, later on, another woman asked if the meeting was supposed to be a venting session.
“The general public is not going to solve this problem,” she said. “We’ve heard this before. We had a town hall during the election and we heard all the same things. There are lots of agencies in Vernon to help.”
All of Vernon council was present for the meeting, though it was made clear they would not take questions from the floor.
Mayor Victor Cumming addressed the crowd after the 43rd speaker.
“Council is keen to keep working on these combination of issues,” he said. “This council will continue to work on these issues. This council has some role and some responsibility. This is not the beginning and it’s not the end. The goal is to continue to make Vernon a high quality place to live and work.”
Coun. Kari Gares, who spearheaded the movement to host the meeting, was hoping to hear solutions that hadn’t already been heard and that came to fruition.
“There were some things people did say I wrote down and will do some research on my own,” said Gares. “All in all, I think it was successful. We’re here to be engaged and I think that’s the key to it, allowing our community to feel they are connected to us, that we’re listening and that they’ll be part of the overall solution.”