Housing Vernon's homeless has dramatically reduced certain crimes | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Housing Vernon's homeless has dramatically reduced certain crimes


The dramatic decline in crime and bylaw infractions involving Vernon's homeless population is a direct result of providing housing, says a housing charity.

Statistics released by the City of Vernon bylaw department show files involving the street entrenched population dropped by 57 per cent from 2019 to 2021.

Numbers from the RCMP paint a similar picture, with crime files involving the homeless dropping by 67 per cent in the same period.

"The biggest factor in the decrease is absolutely housing," Turning Points Collaborative Society Director of Housing Shelley Kiefiuk told iNFOnews.ca.

Kiefiuk said as an initial response to COVID-19, in the spring of 2020, the province provided funding to house people in motels.

That cash saw 88 motel rooms house 152 people.

"That's 152 community members that were previously either precariously housed or absolutely unhoused," Kiefiuk said. "That did make a significant impact on folks that were likely sleeping rough."

Kiefiuk said the homeless situation in Vernon is now dramatically different than it was just three years ago.

And the RCMP and bylaw stats show something certainly changed.

"I know it's directly correlated to housing, the answer to homelessness is housing," Kiefiuk said

Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming said the substantial reduction in the homeless population has clearly led to fewer complaints to the City's bylaw department and to the RCMP.

"You provide individuals with a place to sleep and a washroom and a place to make their meals then people are much better off," Mayor Cumming said. "There's plenty of proof that if you provide housing and wrap-around support services like is now happening in Vernon for those who are most vulnerable then the negative impacts that we experience are significantly reduced."

The mayor said the statistics show this.

READ MORE: More affordable housing and CERB behind dramatic decline in Vernon crime rate

In the fall of 2019 nearly half of all bylaw complaints in Vernon involved the homeless.

Anyone driving past the city's Linear Park would have witnessed one or two dozen homeless people constantly sprawled out on the grass throughout that summer. The year before was much the same.

When the 2018 Vernon council voted to outlaw shopping carts as a way to deal with the situation it was homeless people at Linear Park that spoke to iNFOnews.ca voicing their concerns with the proposed bylaw. The bylaw never came into play.

That same year Vernon City council came up with an Activate Safety Task Force that made dozens of recommendations regarding the homeless situation in downtown Vernon.

What it didn't have the means to do was pump $6.4 million into housing the homeless in Vernon, as B.C. Housing did after the pandemic struck.

"When people are connected with secure housing, they are able to access the services and health supports they need to live more stable, healthy lives, which benefits everyone in the community. One of the outcomes of healthier communities means there are fewer calls to both police and ambulance services," B.C. Housing said in an email.

Kiefiuk points to the housing first model, with supports, as proof that putting a roof over people's heads is the first step.

"Once folks get that stable piece, which is a roof over their head, that gives (them) the opportunity and the time and the wherewithal to address other areas of your life that may need to be looked at," she said.

Vernon's Linear Park is seen in this photo April 10, 2019.
Vernon's Linear Park is seen in this photo April 10, 2019.

Other statistics from Vernon's bylaw department show a drop from almost 1,500 complaints in the city's downtown core in 2018 to 634 in 2021 — a 58 per cent decrease.

While not all of these files are related to the homeless, the stats show a vast improvement in the situation downtown from just a few years ago.

In 2019, a downtown Vernon seniors' petition said the situation was "out of control" and that residents were too scared to go outside.

The head of Vernon’s bylaw department, Darren Lees, says extra boots on the ground have also made a big impact in dealing with issues downtown.

"We have an increased presence in parks and specifically the downtown core, and that daily presence deters… suspicious activity and obviously adds to advanced public safety," Lees said.

While his bylaw officers are seeing fewer people living on the streets, he said there is certainly still homeless people around.

"Temporary shelters are still a large percentage of (some bylaw officers) duties for sure," he said. "We may be seeing less folks, but we're also seeing individuals that are choosing not to go inside."

Kiefiuk said while the city has 91 shelter beds, it still turns away an average of three people a night.

Mayor Cumming said the City is focused on addressing those with complex needs.

"We're pressing the province to provide specific facilities for those that have complex needs... that's many of the people that we see in Vernon that refuse to accept shelter," he said.

While housing is a provincial mandate, the mayor said the City has also in some cases provided land at a reduced cost, offered accelerated development approvals, and covered development cost charges for certain projects.

But why, if the obvious solution to homelessness is housing, didn’t any of this happen prior to 2020?

“Historically the province didn't see it as a priority,” Mayor Cumming said.

The mayor pointed to a change in provincial policy, and a change in the provincial government, as to why communities like Vernon are seeing more supportive housing now.

B.C. Housing said it is currently funding 79 temporary shelter and isolation spaces across four sites in Vernon, as well 86 year-round shelter spaces and 97 supportive homes.

And a new 52 unit supportive housing project is scheduled to open this summer.

The mayor also points to recent developments from the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Vernon Native Housing Society project as non-for-profit housing groups providing quality housing at less than market rates.

The mayor said the city still needs long-term solutions.

A quiet, although cold, morning at Linear Park, today, Mar. 10, 2022.
A quiet, although cold, morning at Linear Park, today, Mar. 10, 2022.

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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