"WE HAVE THE SAME ISSUES"
VERNON - A Vernon councillor is concerned the city is being left to fend for itself as social issues deepen in the community.
Vernon is currently experiencing an upswing in the number of homeless camps in the city, as well as an increase in the amount of needles being found in public spaces, and Coun. Juliette Cunningham feels the federal and provincial governments aren’t doing enough.
“Whenever there are solutions brought forward, whether it’s the federal government or the provincial government, they go on population base,” Cunningham says.
She notes that safe injection sites are being eyed in Kelowna and Kamloops to help prevent overdoses and reduce the amount of discarded needles, while Vernon has not received attention from higher levels of government for such resources.
“We have the same issues,” Cunningham says. “I’m not suggesting necessarily an injection site, I’m suggesting that we are given resources.”
She also points out that high profile areas like Vancouver’s downtown eastside and Victoria have received funding for affordable housing, while Vernon is considered too small to qualify for funding through Canada’s homelessness partnering strategy.
“I think there has to be a fairer way to distribute the resources,” Cunningham says, noting a per capita funding model might be the way to go.
She praises local agencies for the work they’ve done, but says service providers are strapped for resources.
“When you talk to the Upper Room Mission and other agencies dealing with homelessness, what’s alarming to me is... people with families and young children accessing the Mission to a significant level,” Cunningham says.
Annette Sharkey, with the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan, says the social crisis is not unique to Vernon. Part of the trend, she says, could be related to people returning to home due to poor economic conditions in Alberta.
“There is still that desperate need right across the province, in particular for those who are hard to house, ” Sharkey says of individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues.
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