Vernon politicians find themselves caught in the middle of a growing social issue.
Recent court rulings have dictated that the homeless cannot be removed from public parks if there aren’t shelter beds available so Vernon, like many other B.C. communities, has relaxed regulations. On Monday, council voted to allow temporary shelter in designated public spaces from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. when shelter beds are not available.
This is a tough one because the city must abide by the courts but many residents, naturally, are concerned, about what’s happening in the parks. Coun. Catherine Lord can say she hasn’t seen a reduction in public use in Polson Park, but perception can become reality if some residents are convinced there is a safety issue.
Perhaps one of the ways the city can help is a committee structure that establishes guidelines for how the camps are operated and set up. The committee could consist of social agencies, bylaw officers and occupants of the homeless camps. It may not be the total answer, but this could provide some form of structure to the camps.
But the city should not be doing as Coun. Dalvir Nahal suggested and that is putting resources into opening up shelter beds.
The bottom line is that social issues are the mandate of the provincial and federal government and if the municipality gets involved, it can expect considerable financial downloading in the future.
In the end, Vernon council has a role to play with homelessness but it can’t do everything.