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High visibility of Vernon's Linear Park homeless camp is a good thing: RCMP

Shopping carts at Linear Park, right beside the People Place, on the side of 25 Avenue, Oct. 3, 2017.
October 10, 2017 - 3:54 PM

VERNON - Vernon city council is considering ways to alleviate safety concerns around the Linear Park homeless camp, but according to the RCMP, it's already safer than its predecessor at Polson Park.

Council heard today, Oct. 10, from RCMP Const. Kerri Parish that there are roughly 12 to 15 people actually sleeping in the park, although the numbers can fluctuate during the day. That’s a lot smaller than the Polson Park camp, which averaged 25 to 40 people, Parish said.

But while the camp is smaller, it’s much more visible, and it’s closer to downtown homes and organizations like those housed in the People Place. Staff at a non-profit with an office in the building said last week they are increasingly concerned for their safety, and are seeing some groups cancel meetings at the People Place due to a perceived lack of safety.

READ MORE: High profile Vernon homeless camp makes issues hard to ignore

Coun. Scott Anderson attempted to implement a motion that would add Linear Park to the city’s list of public spaces where sheltering is not allowed, but that was not supported by a majority of council. Mayor Akbal Mund said it would only move people somewhere else.

Coun. Brian Quiring led another motion that would prohibit camping in the block of Linear Park beside the People Place — an idea that got some early support from other councillors. That idea will be revisited in more detail two weeks from now at the next council meeting.

The camp at Linear Park has been growing ever since the city implemented new bylaw restrictions and cleaned up the large homeless camp at the back of Polson Park.

Const. Parish noted that compared to Polson Park, Linear Park is actually much safer for service providers, bylaw and RCMP officers because of its high visibility. She said Polson Park was “isolated and hidden” while at Linear Park, the camp is out in the open and there are more witnesses around.

“The Downtown Enforcement Unit is further appreciative and very aware of the increased public surveillance in this area,” Parish said. “There continue to be people who are bringing in food and water… Those are the same people willing to intervene if there is an assault in progress…. Those are the people willing to be a witness if there is a crime in progress.”

She said police are focussing regular patrols on Linear Park and will be accompanying city bylaw officers to the camp. Addressing concerns around illegal activity in the area, Parish said police have zero tolerance for crime and will enforce federal and provincial laws.

Council also approved a bylaw amendment today that extends the time limit to allow temporary sheltering starting at dusk, so that homeless individuals can erect shelters before dark. Coun. Scott Anderson was the only person who voted against the change, arguing it will make it easier for people to camp, which he said is contrary to the goal of the bylaw.

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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