Vernon Coun. Scott Anderson’s proposal to move homeless encampments to City Hall Plaza was defeated in Monday’s council meeting.
On Nov. 12, Coun. Anderson moved that Polson Park, the “jewel” of Vernon, be closed to camping overnight as tents and personal belongings are an “eyesore and a burden on our bylaw and RCMP officers.”
“And it’s time we did something about it,” he said.
He proposed instead the downtown City Hall Plaza, including the lawn at the south end adjacent to the museum, be opened for camping between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. This motion was also defeated in Monday’s council meeting.
“My hope in inviting the street entrenched population to city hall is that Vernonites will understand that we all share the burden created by drug addiction and mental illness,” Coun. Anderson said in his statement. “These problems will persist until the province starts addressing the actual addiction crisis instead of focusing solely on status quo harm reduction.”
City hall grounds, he said, would be easier to police and monitor due to its proximity to the RCMP detachment, fire station and other services.
“From a logistical and security perspective, it makes sense,” the rationale report reads. “Grouping overnight campers together will make it easier for both the RCMP and bylaw to fulfil their duties.”
Centralizing the street entrenched population will also keep the overall issue in the limelight, the report continued.
“This change of venue will send a message to numerous audiences that City Hall not only recognizes the problem but is willing to deal with it directly,” the report states. “It tells the citizens of Vernon that local politicians are not aloof from the issue, it tells merchants that they are valued and that local politicians are doing what we can to alleviate their concerns with concrete action.”
The change in camping hours requested by Coun. Anderson may not only help with cleanup costs associated with the tearing down of camps, but it may encourage some of the population to take action to improve their situation or seek help, or they may choose to move away from Vernon as a result of the change, his rationale report stated.
“Current campers are not homeless for economic reasons,” the statement said. “Campers are mainly in tents for three reasons: drug addiction, mental illness or simply a lifestyle choice. The refrain, ‘we’re all two paycheques away from being there,’ is frequently heard, but it is simply not true.
“Most Vernonites have lost their jobs at one time or another, many without family or friends to lean on for help, and very few of them have found themselves camping in Linear or Polson parks. Other alternatives include rooming houses, room rentals, off-season motel rooms, commercial campgrounds and moving to different cities more amenable to overnight camping,” he said in the rationale.
Coun. Anderson said city councillors have to serve the citizens of Vernon, not just the street entrenched. Tens of thousands of dollars of resources have been invested into helping the vulnerable population covering housing to medical needs, but “the problem is simply getting worse, not better,” he said.
“Vernon’s municipal government should do what it can to discourage a lifestyle that is destructive to both the participants and to civil society,” he said.