A Vernon councillor calls for the city to be tough on “trouble makers,” and looks to Penticton as an example. (Black Press photo)

Vernon councillor calls for ‘zero tolerance’ for ‘trouble makers’

Coun. Scott Anderson looks to Penticton for example

A Vernon councillor has called for the city to look south to see how a community deals with severe problems in its downtown core as a result of those living on the streets.

Scott Anderson, in a social media post, refuted The Morning Star’s recent editorial that “the impact of the street-entrenched population on downtown business can’t be tackled without also tackling, or at least mitigating, the overarching issue of homelessness.”

“The issue is not homelessness,” said Anderson. “Not all homeless people are causing problems. Nor is it drug use. Not all drug users are causing problems. Nor is it mental illness. The problem is…that ‘some members of the street-entrenched population’ are causing problems. … ‘Solving’ homelessness will not solve the problem, nor is it impossible to alleviate the problem without solving homelessness.”

Anderson believes an answer lies 113 kilometres to the south, in the City of Penticton.

“What we need to do is make it apparent to the trouble-makers that Vernon is no longer a free-for-all, and we can do that the same way Penticton did – through enforcement and a zero-tolerance attitude,” said Anderson. “We may not be able to solve the problem completely, but we can make it very, very difficult for people to remain troublemakers in Vernon.”

Related: Issues with street-entrenched people increase for Vernon business

Editorial: Homeless impact on Vernon businesses a complex issue

Letter: Props on Fisher’s Home Hardware piece

In July 2018, the City of Penticton announced it was taking a zero tolerance approach to all unacceptable behaviours and illegal activities.

“If you are here to enjoy all Penticton has to offer, ‘Welcome.’ If you are here to break the law, drink and use drugs in a public place, occupy and damage city and private property, your life is about to get complicated,” said the city in a news release. “It is time to take our community back from a small group of people that cause a high percentage of the problems. We encourage residents and visitors to report any activity that threatens the safety and beauty of our home.”

Residents were encouraged to call bylaw services or the Penticton RCMP or 911 for emergencies.

That same month, the city announced it was going to improve downtown lighting. A variety of new lights were installed making Penticton’s downtown Main Street and nearby areas a brighter place to be after dark.

“We lit up the downtown, especially the back alleys where those folks used to congregate,” said John Vassilaki, current Mayor of Penticton.

Vassilaki is a 12-year councillor in Penticton who lost a mayoral bid in 2010 but was successfully elected mayor in 2018, He was not on council when the safety features were introduced.

“All night long, it’s like daylight out there. We spent a considerable amount (of money). I don’t have the numbers but it’s paid off and will pay itself off many, many times over. People feel a lot more secure. The fear factor is not as bad as it used to be in the evening.”

Related: Former homeless man hopes to inspire change for others

Related: Lawyer takes aim at City of Penticton’s ‘war on the homeless’

Related: Stories unite Canadians on homelessness action: UBC study

The city received a $50,000 grant to support the creation of a situation table, which brings agencies together to work collaboratively to ensure vulnerable communities get the best care and support needed, as well as prevent crises and reduce the risk of harms, such as crime and overdose.

In December, Penticton announced the formation of a city safety and security task force with a mandate to assist Penticton council and the business community in creating a safe and secure city. The task force meets for the first time in March.

“We are taking a lot of safety steps for our downtown,” he said. “We are starting budget deliberations Tuesday (Feb. 26) morning, and there are many items concerning crime and safety in our downtown core.

“We don’t go after people as such. We go after bad behaviour, that helped a lot more than anything else to slow down what’s been happening downtown.”

Vassilaki described ‘bad behaviour’ as bullying, drinking and shooting up in public.

Penticton’s mayor is not surprised Vernon has been having the same issues, saying “it’s up and down the Okanagan Valley.”

“It’s a very, very small percentage of the homeless or those with mental illness that are causing the problems we have with bad behaviour,” said Vassilaki. “Get rid of the bad behaviour, you get rid of a lot of the problems we’ve had.”

Penticton will soon be getting 150 new housing units for the homeless which Vassilaki feels will alleviate the issues even more.

Vassilaki estimated that between $300,000 and $500,000 has been budgeted to deal with downtown issues for the city’s budget deliberations.

In September, an online media outlet in Penticton reported the city had spent $350,000 over the summer months to tackle the problems with homelessness, crime and addictions in its downtown area. A city staff member acknowledged that “people were being chased around,” and crime had been reduced in the downtown core, but the same problems were still existing as summer ended.

The report said the city spent $20,000 to pick up discarded needles, $57,000 to repair damage to public washrooms, $40,000 in bylaw enforcement, $90,000 for private security, $47,000 in RCMP overtime and $42,000 on the new security lighting downtown. There was also $26,000 spent on legal fees surrounding a court case involving a well-known local panhandler, and another $25,000 to deal with a local notorious property.



roger@vernonmorningstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cookie monsters rejoice as B.C. stores sell Girl Guide sweets

With door-to-door sales cancelled, a few big chains have stepped up to distribute

Kids get back to learning in B.C., online

Ministry of Education rolls out new tool for school

Second Vernon-area high school exposed to COVID-19

Kalamalka Secondary School staff, students urged to self-isolate if showing symptoms

City of Vernon to keep working with developers through COVID-19

City council has postponed its meeting schedule; variances, zoning applications on hold

WATCH: Vernon couple gets engaged in quarantine

Gold’N Time Jewellery helps write happy ending for couple’s epic pandemic love story

Trudeau announces 75% wage subsidy for small businesses amid COVID-19

This is up from the previously announced 10 per cent wage subsidy

World update, 9:30 p.m. March 27: Positive news in Korea as U.S. hits 100,000 cases

The United States now has the most coronavirus cases of any country in the world

VIDEO: Penguins roam empty halls of Vancouver Aquarium

COVID-19 has forced the Vancouver Aquarium to close access to guests – leaving room for its residents

67 more B.C. COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Vancouver region

Positive tests found in Surrey, Langley long-term care facilities

‘Now is not the time to bag that peak’: BCSAR manager discourages risky outdoor adventures

Call volumes are not going down, even as the COVID-19 pandemic persists

Food Banks BC already seeing surge in demand due to COVID-19 pandemic

Executive director Laura Lansink said they expect applications will keep increasing

Nanaimo couple caught aboard cruise ship with four dead and COVID-19 present

Four ‘older guests’ have died on Holland America’s Zaandam; cruise line confirms two COVID-19 cases

Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen cancels April 2 meeting

Staff working to install videoconferencing system during COVID-19 pandemic

Frontline workers receiving COVID-19 isolation exemptions prompt concerns

Provincial Health Authority staff exempt from self-isolation upon return from international travel

Most Read