The concept that many of Vernon’s homeless are transient is being contested.
A homeless census was conducted Oct. 18 and 19 and it indicates that 76 per cent of the 67 surveyed grew up in Vernon or the North Okanagan or have family here.
“Overwhelmingly, they have connections here,”Annette Sharkey, with the Social Planning Council, told city council Monday.
Forty-four per cent have lived in the area for more than 10 years and even among the 18 per cent who have been here for less than one year, half of them have family connections or grew up in Vernon and area.
Coun. Scott Anderson doesn’t dispute the census figures, but says the situation is different in the summer.
“Every single merchant I’ve talked to says the majority of the problems are coming from transients or new people,” he said.
“In the summer, there is a problem with people moving through who aren’t rooted.”
The census identified 153 homeless individuals Oct. 18 and 19, up from 144 in 2016.
“This is the hot topic in our community right now,” said Sharkey.
“We don’t want people to be homeless in our community. It’s a problem we can’t ignore.”
Sharkey believes there are more homeless because of the low rental vacancy rate.
“We are applying madly for (government funding) programs,” she said of supportive units, adding that emergency shelter mats will be open 24-hours a day over the winter.
Social agencies are also trying to address safety and security concerns.
“It’s not OK for local businesses and service providers to be afraid in their own workplaces,” she said, pointing out the issue is related to substance use and a lack of treatment.
Sharkey says social agencies want to work with the Downtown Vernon Association.
The city has little direct role in assisting the homeless, but it can promote development of affordable housing.
“We need to create more units on smaller pieces of property and forget about parking,” said Coun. Brian Quiring.
Coun. Juliette Cunningham is concerned about the divisions occurring among residents over homelessness.
“We need to start listening to each other. I’m trying to understand the other side of the fear and concern. The only way we can address the issue is as a community,” she said.