Number of people sleeping on the street in Vernon 'a travesty' | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Number of people sleeping on the street in Vernon 'a travesty'

FILE PHOTO: Maurice Samson was sleeping in a tent in August 2017 in Vernon.
October 20, 2017 - 10:26 AM

VERNON - Vernon’s latest homeless survey reveals more people are sleeping rough and in unstable housing compared to the same time last year.

The count, which is done bi-annually, shows 153 people in the community do not have a permanent place to live, up from 144 in October 2016. Of those, 44 people were sleeping “rough” or outdoors, compared to 33 last year, and 108 were staying at local shelters, recovery centres or the women’s transition house. 

“There are 44 people that slept outside last night,” John Howard Society co-executive director Kelly Fehr says. “That’s a travesty.”

Of those sleeping rough, 27 were counted at Linear Park, 15 at the north end of town and two in other locations. 

Fehr, along with Social Planning Council executive director Annette Sharkey, held a media conference this morning, Oct. 20, to discuss the results and what is being done.

One piece of good news, Fehr says, is B.C. Housing has authorized an extension of the shelter’s 23 extreme weather mats (provided Nov. 1 to March 31) to have them open 24 hours a day, compared to 12 hours (overnight only). That’s expected to increase usage because homeless people won’t have to pack up during the daytime and find somewhere else to go, Fehr says.

Annette Sharkey and Kelly Fehr discuss the results of the October 2017 homeless count Friday, Oct. 20, 2017.
Annette Sharkey and Kelly Fehr discuss the results of the October 2017 homeless count Friday, Oct. 20, 2017.

Sharkey responded to concerns being raised by businesses about illegal activity in the downtown core, stating it’s not necessarily a homeless issue.

“We need to separate homelessness and the addictions issue. Yes, there’s overlap, but it doesn’t mean every person who is homeless has an addiction,” Sharkey says.

She says it might be time to consider a safe injection site in Vernon, similar to what has been rolled out in Kamloops and Kelowna.

“If we as a community are outraged at seeing people using drugs outside… there is an alternative for that where people are supervised,” Sharkey says.

According to the survey, most people said they were homeless due to the high cost of housing. Sharkey says Vernon’s rental vacancy rate is less that one per cent, leaving people who are marginalized with few options.

“The only choice is to sleep outside,” Sharkey says.

She says mitigating homelessness is “not actually a complicated issue.”

“There’s a straightforward solution, but really what it calls for is funding,” she says, noting that affordable and supportive housing is what’s needed.

Supported housing comes with on-site resources and programs for individuals with complex mental health and addictions issues. Vernon has roughly 470 affordable housing units, but only some of them are supported.

Both Fehr and Sharkey say more housing and more addictions recovery programs are needed.

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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