March 31, 2016 - 11:30 AM
VERNON - With a significant homelessness issue on its hands, the City of Vernon is looking for some help from the federal government.
Vernon currently isn’t eligible to receive a chunk of $112 million announced in the federal budget because it isn’t listed as a designated community in the country’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy. There are 61 designated communities across Canada on the list, including Kelowna and Kamloops.
Vernon council voted unanimously this week to write to the federal government asking to be included in the list of eligible communities.
Coun. Scott Anderson, who brought up the issue, says Vernon is struggling with homelessness, just like Kelowna and Kamloops are.
“We’re developing a problem here. Homeless camps are popping up at Kin Beach, at the race track, and other places,” he says.
A handful of individuals sought shelter in vacant horse barns at Kin Race Track over the winter.
A census conducted in October 2015 found six homeless camps in the city, up from three the previous spring. The number of homeless camps has fallen dramatically since 2009 — when 30 were recorded — in large part thanks to the efforts of outreach workers and the city.
Because of the climate in the Okanagan, Anderson believes the city attracts a number of homeless people.
“We are not helped by Kelowna getting a grant. We have our own distinct problems,” Anderson says.
He says the root cause of homelessness is often mental health and addictions issues and insists that has to be addressed, but expects more and more people will struggle with homelessness due to job losses as well.
“I anticipate it will get worse with the recession,” he says.
Coun. Juliette Cunningham isn’t optimistic the federal government will agree to the request, but believes the message is important.
“You open it up for one more, every community across the county will be looking for the same thing,” Cunningham says.
She says the federal government has pulled the plug on funding resources over the years for things like supported housing and mortgage subsidies, and insists a national housing strategy and integrated approach is needed.
“It has to be a multi-pronged approach. I believe it’s all levels of government that have to be working together on that,” she says.
Council will also formally ask North Okanagan-Shuswap Conservative MP Mel Arnold to champion the inclusion of Vernon as an eligible community.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016