Vernon social partners moving towards solutions

Committee understands fear, anger and frustration that some local businesses have experienced as a result of the lack of shelter beds and the need for more treatment and recovery programs

By Jan Shuman

Social Planning Council for the North Okanagan

The role of the Social Planning Council is to mobilize the community to address social issues. The driving force of the organization is the Partners in Action Committee who problem solve, set up action teams, and then follow through on solutions. Since 2008, we’ve had more than 130 action teams with over 150 organizations taking part. Many of the current services and programs to address homelessness are as a result of this collaborative effort.

The Partners in Action have been following the process of the Activate Safety Taskforce very closely and have had a chance for an initial review of the recommendations released to the public on July 6, 2018.

See: Force puts Vernon to task to tackle safety

The Partners in Action Committee understands the fear, anger and frustration that some local businesses have experienced as a result of the lack of shelter beds and the need for more treatment and recovery programs. It is not okay that people are forced to sleep in alleys and doorways or that businesses have to clean up feces and garbage every morning. Many non-profits have also been directly impacted by these issues and agree that we need to address this problem.

Due to the urgency of the current situation, the Activate Safety Task Force focused on immediate concerns and the role of enforcement in the community. The Partners in Action Committee works closely with the Bylaw Department and the RCMP through the COOL Team (Camp Okanagan Outreach Liaison Team) and knows that there is a huge demand on enforcement services. If more resources are put into enforcement, we will continue to work closely with these officers.

The Partners in Action Committee has long been an advocate for more public washrooms in the downtown core and have been equally frustrated by the vandalism with our current location. The current washrooms were meant to be a temporary measure so new washrooms with a redesign focused on security would be welcome.

There is definitely a need for more information in regards to substance use issues and the opioid crisis. The Social Planning Council has arranged a presentation from Interior Health to Vernon council on July 23, 2018, to provide information and updates on current strategies and to answer any follow-up questions.

The report recognizes the important role of the Community Safety Office, a valuable resource that can provide direct support to local businesses for many of the current issues happening in the downtown core. Last summer, the Community Safety office developed a package to support public spaces experiencing challenging behaviours and many of the resources are a support to local businesses as well.

Partners in Action would welcome more communication between downtown businesses and the service providers. Some businesses believe that shelters and programs attract people and are the cause of the problem. The data does not support this perception. Between 2009 and 2015, the wider community was not directly impacted by homelessness, even though there were at least 100 people without a home on any given night. That’s because people were inside and provided with stability and supports. Shelters and housing protect the wider community by ensuring that people are not forced to sleep in alleys, doorways and parks.

See related: Violence and dirty needles force Vernon salon move

Immediate strategies are needed to support local businesses and non-profits in the downtown core. Working closely with the Bylaw Department and RCMP, addressing the lack of public washrooms, promoting the services of the Community Safety Office and providing a communications bridge between frustrated businesses and service providers are all valuable strategies.

The Partners in Action have been focused on the longer-term solution of more shelter beds and affordable housing as this is ultimately how we will resolve the crisis permanently. The non-profit housing sector is working diligently to secure more units, and much-needed resources are on the way. Turning Points Collaborative will open a new modular 46-bed shelter this summer and a 52-unit supported housing apartment in the winter of 2019. In addition, another 80 new units of affordable housing are in the works with partner agencies.

See: More affordable rental housing coming to Vernon

Our community has faced this crisis before and successfully brought people inside. We know that we can do this again. The Partners in Action Committee looks forward to supporting the City of Vernon as they move forward with both short term and long term solutions to our housing crisis.


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