Vernon homeless numbers rise

Latest census records 161 people people living in Vernon’s streets or shelters, up from 153 in 2017

Annette Sharkey

Vernon’s homeless count is up from last year’s census.

Statistics released Tuesday by the Social Planning Council of North Okanagan, which oversees the Partners in Action committee, show 161 people are living outside or in shelters in 2018, up from 153 in 2017, and from 144 in 2016.

Partners in Action has conducted a census and survey in the fall since 2017.

“The census is showing similar numbers to last fall but with some small shifts in terms of whether people were inside or outside,” said Social Planning Council executive director Annette Sharkey in a presentation to Vernon council Tuesday.

“There were also 10 people in hospital that identified as homeless. The census is not a definitive number as it would be easy to miss a few people sleeping outside due to the movement of people who are homeless, but it does give a sense of the scope of the problem and helps to track trends.”

Homelessness is a provincial issue, not just a local one, said Sharkey.

“We are in the midst of a provincial housing crisis and a record low vacancy rate,” she said. “It’s the lack of affordable units and the low vacancy rate that has significantly increased the number of people without homes right across B.C.”

The long-term solution said Sharkey, is more housing, and more than 175 units are coming to Vernon in the next year.

That includes:

* 46 beds at the Our Place Shelter and 52 units for the My Place Apartment, both to be operated by the Turning Points Collaborative Society (formerly John Howard Society);

* 38 units to be operated by the Vernon Native Housing Society;

* 41 units to be operated by the Vancouver Resource Society.

“We are hopeful that more announcements will be made soon as our community is well-organized, extremely collaborative and continues to apply for more units,” said Sharkey, adding that three local non-profit housing organizations applied to B.C. Housing in September.

The federal government recently announced plans to expand the number of designated communities to receive funding under their homelessness partnering strategy. Vernon is in a good position to apply as Partners in Action has been collecting relevant data for 10 years.

“Being a designated community means access to significant federal funding to address homelessness in Vernon, and to implement a housing first model,” said Sharkey, thanking North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold for his advocacy and support.

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