'This isn't a proud situation for us': Polson Park camper explains difficulties of new Vernon bylaw - InfoNews.ca

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'This isn't a proud situation for us': Polson Park camper explains difficulties of new Vernon bylaw

Pets, backpacks and shopping carts fill the parking lot of the Upper Room Mission on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017.
August 18, 2017 - 4:30 PM

“THE BYLAW MAKES COMPLETE SENSE TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T LIVE IN A PARK”

VERNON - It’s a Friday morning and the parking lot of the Upper Room Mission in Vernon is filled with overflowing shopping carts, backpacks and sleeping bags.

Days after new bylaw regulations were approved, members of Vernon's homeless population are scrambling. 

“We accumulate things, we like to try to have a normal life," one homeless man explains. “We don’t have garages, so people can see our stuff. Look inside a garage, it’s probably a mess too but no one sees it.”

He gives only his middle name, Martin, because he runs a business in Vernon and wants to keep some aspects of his life private. He lives at the back of Polson Park, in a shelter he built with tarps and sticks.

Sitting inside the Upper Room Mission snacking on the treat of the day — cherries — he talks about the effects of Vernon’s new bylaw regulations, which require campers to pack up every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“Think of carrying your garage on your back every day to work,” he says.

Martin, who was diagnosed with bone cancer in January, says he’s one of only several people still sleeping in Polson Park.

“At one point there were 60 people. Now there’s six,” he says.

Asked why they left and where they went, he says, “they knew the push was coming” and “scattered across Vernon in bushes and back alleys.”

Lisa Anderson, co-executive director of the Upper Room Mission, opens up a storage shed.
Lisa Anderson, co-executive director of the Upper Room Mission, opens up a storage shed.

The City of Vernon notified campers of the new regulations this week and intends to begin enforcing the bylaw next week.

“I think everyone will go — angrily — but we’ll go. I think there will be some backlash from the community though because we’ll no longer be out of sight,” Martin says. “We hid at the back there, we stayed out of peoples’ sight. This isn’t a proud situation for us.”

The new bylaw allows homeless people to camp in temporary structures overnight as long as they dismantle the shelters in the daytime, but Martin says those are rules few, if any campers, are likely to follow. They’d rather leave.

“The bylaw makes complete sense to people who don’t live in a park,” he says. “We try to build something safe enough so we can leave all day and not get robbed. Anything reasonably safe we’re told it’s too much of a permanent structure and it gets torn down.”

If they can’t have permanent structures in Polson Park, most will look for places where they can, he says.

“Now we’ll be thrown out in front of everybody,” he says.

The changes are creating a lot of stress among both campers and social service agencies. Lisa Anderson, co-executive director of the Upper Room Mission, says emotions are running high.

“The tensions are high. Everyone’s stressed out, little fights here and there. Everyone’s scrambling and stressing. We’ve been trying to be as supportive as possible,” Anderson says.

One way the Mission is supporting people affected by the bylaw is by providing daytime storage sheds.

“The guests and the campers, they’re going through lots of stuff,” Anderson says. “So just to take one of the stressors off of them, so that they can have a safe place to store their belongings while they’re looking for housing, or working with other agencies, takes a little bit of a burden off of them.”

The sheds are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are big enough to fit a bike or shopping cart.

“Because the bylaw starts at 9 p.m. there will be a little bit of time in between, but we just don’t have the staffing capacity, or the funding to stay open longer and to have additional staff,” Anderson says.

Anderson is grateful for community support in getting the storage sheds completed, including a grant from the Community Foundation of the North Okanagan, donated labour from Everton Ridge Homes, two sheds from the Home Depot, and landscaping work from WildFire Excavation. 

Martin for one would prefer not to have to cart his belongings around on a daily basis. He’s not sure where he’ll end up going. He likes the idea of a designated area for campers, especially if it had amenities like porta-potties and running water.

“That would be amazing,” he says.

Read more stories about the homeless situation in Vernon here. 


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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