Prior to Gateway Shelter opening in September 2008, there were concerns from the downtown business community around the impacts of homelessness in the downtown specifically in the lot where the BMO bank now stands.
There was a large encampment on that property for some time. When Gateway opened Vernon saw the number of homeless camps go from 30 down to three over the span of approximately one and a half years. This is mostly due to the fact the housing vacancy rates were high and Gateway was able to assist people in finding and maintaining housing.
One month after Gateway opened Ed was interviewed by CHBC Global and stated he was very happy with how the shelter had helped clean up the neighbourhood.
With respect to Ed’s press release, the shelter has always been a 24-hour operation from the day it opened. Registration for new clients still typically starts at 5 p.m. unless staff have the time to complete an intake earlier in the day and it is beneficial to the client. We do encourage people not to loiter within a two-block radius, but it is legal for housed or non-housed people to stand on the sidewalk. This is not a jurisdiction we have authority over.
People with problematic substance use conditions have always been able to access the shelter, this has never changed. Gateway Shelter has done a good job of hiding the ugliness of poverty, homelessness, severe and persistent mental health issues and addiction from the downtown core for years. Maybe we were too effective. Over the last two years, we have been struggling to help people find housing as the cost of housing skyrocketed. It is at the point people on minimum wage, disability assistance or income assistance have very few options.
Since the housing vacancy rates dropped down to one per cent we were no longer able to find people housing with the exception of the odd rooming house or our own internal housing stock. The housing crisis has forced countless people into the streets and parks to live. Ed and the other downtown businesses were exposed to the ugliness of poverty and homelessness once (due to public pressure) the City of Vernon forced people from the places they were camping. Consequently, many of these marginalized people were pushed into the downtown core.
As a result of pushing houseless people from one location to another and the lack of housing, Turning Points worked with BC Housing to increase temporary winter shelter spaces at both Gateway and the Men’s Shelter located at 2307 43rd Ave. Twenty of those 33 extra spaces have closed and those people who were sheltered are on the street yet again. Thankfully with the City of Vernon’s support BC Housing has invested in a new shelter Our Place which is expected to open Aug. 10, 2018. Once that is open we will be able to provide shelter to those who are unable to secure housing. BC Housing and Turning Points will also be opening a fully supported, affordable apartment complex in February 2019. These two projects will be beneficial to Vernon which does not receive any federal dollars towards housing initiatives.
I have personally worked closely with Ed for years and understand his frustration. Daily our staff are in positions to not only see the ugliness of poverty and homelessness but to listen to the stories, be a shoulder to cry on, help with trauma, employment, mental health and addictions needs. It is through strong and healthy relationships between the business community and non-government agencies that we can make a change.
Turning Points Collaborative Society which operates employment, housing, supported housing, addictions recovery and shelter services stands alongside all citizens and businesses in Vernon and says enough is enough. We need solutions and we need to collaborate to identify them and secure the funds/supports needed to achieve them.
Kelly Fehr, Co-Executive Director, Turning Points