Downtown Vernon business owners scared, fed up and losing money - InfoNews

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Downtown Vernon business owners scared, fed up and losing money

About 160 people attended a town hall meeting Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Vernon to discuss the impacts of some members of the street-entrenched population.
April 06, 2018 - 10:21 AM

VERNON - Safe injection sites, public washrooms and hired security are some of the ideas local business owners pitched at a packed town hall meeting last night, April 5, in Vernon.

Merchants say things are getting out of hand in the downtown core with open drug use, aggressive panhandling, prostitution, fires, littering and shoplifting. The issues are scaring off customers, frightening staff and adding to costs for cleanup and extra staff, owners told members of the Activate Safety Task Force struck by the City of Vernon.

Issues outlined at the town hall meeting.
Issues outlined at the town hall meeting.

Roughly 160 people attended the town hall meeting, whch was hosted by the task force to gather insight from business owners about where the problems lie. The task force —  made up of city representatives, RCMP, members of the public, the Downtown Vernon Association, and Chamber of Commerce — will review the feedback and expects to present a series of recommendations to Vernon council on July 9.

House of Dwarfs daycare operator Sherry Lynn Morrical said drug use and aggressive people have been frightening parents as they drop kids off, and feels the behaviours are escalating.

“It’s scary going to work in the morning,” Morrical said. “We need help in a big way.”

Other shopkeepers said they have to clean up drug paraphernalia, condoms, garbage and feces before opening up in the morning. Other merchants said some individuals enter their stores and shoplift, or behave suspiciously and frighten patrons and staff.

One local jewellry storeowner said she’s afraid to ask people to leave because “you don’t know what their reaction will be.”

Cindy Masters of Kindale Developmental Association said the cost of doing business is higher for their downtown Vernon thrift store than either of their Armstrong or Salmon Arm locations due to the costs of cleaning up garbage and waste.

Many shopkeepers pointed to illicit drug activity — not homelessness — as the main issue, and some called for stricter enforcement by the RCMP.

“I think we need to push them back a bit and take back our town,” one man said.

Merchants also raised the idea of hiring commissionaires to patrol the downtown, implementing safe drug use sites, increasing shelter spaces, and increasing access to public toilets and showering facilities.

"I think it's important that Vernon has this difficult conversation about the impact of some members of the street-entrenched population," task force chair Darrin Taylor said. "The business community is clearly concerned about a growing problem, and ignoring it or pretending it doesn't exist simply isn't an option."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston 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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