VERNON - The City of Vernon is facing a dire situation with its homeless population.
Just as the number of homeless people has risen in the city, local outreach agencies are being faced with funding losses from the provincial government, the North Okanagan Social Planning Council executive director says.
“We are seeing those numbers go up like we haven’t seen in quite a few years,” Annette Sharkey says. “We are just seeing more people living outside.”
Evictions from the Green Valley Motel, and the downturn in the economy, are factors, she says.
“We have heard people, men mainly, (who) had worked previously don’t have any work now and are really quite desperate,” Sharkey says.
Meanwhile, some local agencies including the Upper Room Mission soup kitchen did not receive provincial gaming grants this year, which is adding pressure to already strained resources, Sharkey says. The Mission was denied a $100,000 gaming grant.
“As a result, (Upper Room Mission) had to make some changes. They are still serving three meals a day, but what they can’t offer any more is the drop-in from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. where people could come any time and have a safe place to hang out. They can’t do that anymore and that is a gap now,” Sharkey says.
Those people are now left on the street with nowhere to go during the daytime.
“It’s really upsetting to see our organizations are seeing reductions in grants and resources. It just means that we’re that much more stretched,” Sharkey says.
She spoke to Vernon City Council on Monday, April 25, about getting together and strategizing a plan for lobbying senior levels of government for assistance. Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster’s office has also been contacted and has arranged for representatives from Community Gaming Grants to meet with local agencies in May, Sharkey says.
“It just seemed like there were a lot of groups in the community that would ordinarily get gaming grants and weren’t receiving them, or were put on notice they’re no longer meeting criteria,” Sharkey says. “We just really need to understand what the criteria is and why groups are suddenly not getting the funding they had previously.”
Members of Vernon council are also worried about the impact lost gaming grants will have on the community.
“I’m a huge supporter of the Upper Room Mission so I know the devastating effect it’s going to have on the community,” Coun. Dalvir Nahal says. “It’s going to be huge. The whole community is going to feel the effect.”
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