The City of Vernon is drawing up a task force to address issues related to homelessness, addictions, criminal behaviour and safety and the impacts on Vernon’s business community.
What the task force will look like and who will be on it drew considerable discussion at Tuesday’s regular council meetings.
“The purpose of the task force is derived from concerns raised at council,” said Coun. Brian Quiring, referring to presentations to council in October from the Social Planning Council for the North Okanagan, whose homeless count showed numbers were on the rise, and from a public delegation led by Vernon business owner Vicki Eide, who expressed concerns about the impacts homelessness, addictions and panhandling were having on businesses in the community.
Council adopted a resolution to draft terms of reference for a task force to address these issues.
The task force would be responsible for identifying issues related to homelessness, addictions, safety and criminal behaviour and their impacts on the business community. It would identify actions and/or strategies to address those issues and make recommendations to council for short- and long-term solutions.
Coun. Scott Anderson was concerned about the scope of the task force.
“The fact it includes homelessness and addictions, while they are associated with it we have countless professionals working on those issues,” said Anderson, who also preferred the term “street-entrenched people” to homeless. “This task force, the real aim of it is the impact of some members of the population on some members of downtown.
“If we broaden the scope which is being dealt with at all three levels (of government), we’re going to lose focus.”
What drew considerable debate was the make-up of the proposed task force.
The terms of reference are calling for a 13-person committee made up of representatives from the community at large (two), City of Vernon councillors (2), and one each from the economic development advisory committee, tourism advisory committee, Downtown Vernon Association, Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce, B.C. Housing, Interior Health Authority, RCMP/Community Policing, City of Vernon Bylaw Compliance and the Social Planning Council.
“We’re looking at 13 people and that’s a huge task force,” said Coun. Catherine Lord, joined in opposition to the task force and its number by Coun. Dalvir Nahal. Both pointed out that the Camp Okanagan Outreach Liaison Team (COOL), including city bylaw officers and the John Howard Society, are working to connect inhabitants of homeless camps that appeared in Polson and Linear Parks with support services over the winter months.
“We need something with about five or six people, people from the general public and they should hold different meetings and contact the agencies,” said Lord.
Added Nahal: “We’re repeating the thought process. We need fresh faces. One of them can report back to the COOL team. Having the same people on both committees is redundant.”
“A task force of six would be a challenge with participation,” he said. “You want someone from economic development, you want them to understand impact it’s having on local economy. Tourism, same thing. It’s unfair to saddle the DVA with this problem. It’s not their mandate. Chamber of commerce, same thing.
“It’s the right group.”
Coun. Juliette Cunningham, who runs a downtown business, said a task force was created in 2008 to help create the Gateway Shelter, and that there was considerable opposition to the shelter until the task force started doing its work.
“Businesses opposed (to the shelter) turned out to be biggest advocates of the shelter because they realized it wasn’t going to be what they thought it would be,” she said. “It’s not a bad idea to have lots of people in room, and I trust people want a resolution to this.
Council did pass the creation of the task force and unanimously appointed Quiring and Anderson as council’s representatives to the group.