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Action not talk needed to deal with safety in downtown Vernon

FILE PHOTO - A homeless person is pictured in Vernon on March 22, 2018.
February 06, 2019 - 2:45 PM

VERNON - Ongoing concerns regarding safety in downtown Vernon dominated today's meeting between local business owners and the City, but while some praised the communication some said the City needed concrete solutions not more talk.

Around 80 people took part in the invitation-only meeting between the City and downtown business owners and service providers today, Feb. 6. The much-anticipated meeting was the result of a recommendation put forward by the Activate Safety Task Force in September 2018. The subject matter focused on issues and concerns related to the impact homelessness has on the downtown core.

Vernon city councillor Kari Gares said the meeting was a good starting point, but much more needed to be done.

"What I can hear from the businesses is that right now they're looking for answers, they want somebody to provide some sort of solutions that are going to make [their] businesses safe, safe for themselves, safe for their staff, safe for their customers, and they really don't want to have those solutions to be placed on their shoulders," said Gares. "[Businesses] will do their part...but ultimately they need to look towards the City to make some necessary changes."

Coun. Dalvir Nahal said the meeting was a good first step.

Around 80 people attended a meeting between business owners and the City of Vernon about downtown safety, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019.
Around 80 people attended a meeting between business owners and the City of Vernon about downtown safety, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019.

"This is the first time the businesses could express their feelings and feel like they'd been heard," said Nahal.

But downtown business owner Rod Lee told the time for talking was long over.

"The same information has been gathered that's been gathered two or three other times," he said.

Lee said city council need to put new bylaws in place and enforce them straight away.

"We are at least a year out, maybe two, before something starts to change. Businesses are closing and more will close," he said.

Lee was also critical Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming left just before the end of the meeting and didn't stay to talk to business owners.

Business owner and Downtown Vernon Association board member Alysia Lor-Knill praised the meeting as a way to bring "everyone together to have these types of difficult discussions."

Lor-Knill said there was no "magical solution" that would fix all the problems discussed.

"Coming up with smaller solutions that we can each implement in our own workplace, that might help with the general well being," she said.

Safety in the downtown core as well the perception of safety were hot topics at the meeting.

Former Vernon Mayor and current councillor Akbal Mund said the discussion had focused heavily on the negative aspects of downtown.

"With all the negativity that goes on... people start to believe it," Mund said. "If you look at the numbers of actual crimes compared to [other] communities it's very low in the downtown core, and that's very important."

North Okanagan RCMP Supt. Shauna Baher said downtown Vernon was a very safe place to be although she understood the communities perception.

"A lot of people don't like the perception of homelessness because it causes them to fear for their safety, it doesn't necessarily mean that's true, at the same time I respect how they feel," Baher said. "Our job is to enforce the law and ensure people are safe in the community."

Moving forward the company which facilitated the meeting, Urban Matters, will prepare a report for council due at the end of the month.

When asked what concrete steps would be taken following the report Gares said council could look at abandoned buildings that have become havens for homeless people.

"Looking at lighting issues, security... it's a starting point, there's still much more that needs to be done," Gares said. The councillor said the majority of the issues discussed fell within the scope of the provincial and federal government who were not at the meeting to represent themselves.

Nadal said one of the biggest issues is safety.

"In the evening there isn't anybody around... maybe having longer bylaw hours [would help], but definitely I think we need more security in the downtown core," Nadal said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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