Too scared to go outside: Downtown Vernon seniors' petition says situation 'out of control' | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Too scared to go outside: Downtown Vernon seniors' petition says situation 'out of control'

An 89-year-old resident of the Orchard Valley Retirement Residence sits outside her downtown Vernon building. Unlike many others in her demographic, she says she is very rarely asked for money.
August 29, 2019 - 2:00 PM

VERNON - Residents and management of two downtown seniors' buildings, together with several nearby businesses, have submitted a petition containing some 120 signatures to Vernon City Council saying they are "sick and tired" of the ongoing issues caused by the street entrenched population which is now "out of control."

The petition and accompanying seven-page letter sent by the Vernon Pensioner Accommodation Society and management of the McCulloch Court Building includes a lengthy list of eye witness accounts of anti-social and illegal behaviour.

"We are seniors that have to live with this every time we step out of our home," reads the letter. "We get approached for money all the time, followed, obscenities shouted at us. We can't sit on our patios without seeing people shooting up, having sex, screaming, shouting, fighting."

Located at 3400 Coldstream Ave, the McCulloch Court Building is a stone's throw from the 2800 block of 35 Street where the RCMP recently busted a known drug house, finding 11 people and heroin and crystal methamphetamine inside. The bust was the second in just over a month and the house now sits boarded up.

The letter says McCulloch residents would see as many as 75 people visit the house daily.

The manager of the 113-unit McCulloch Court Building says in 20 years of working there the situation has gotten dramatically worse in the last few years.

"Tenants see everything here, and they've just had enough, they are scared to go out of their doors sometimes," she says. "It's getting worse and nothing seemingly is getting done, and we want answers. We want the City to do something, the city looks trashed a lot of the time, and we want to take our city back."

Residents of the McCulloch Court Building have sent a letter and petition to council saying the situation downtown has gotten out of control.
Residents of the McCulloch Court Building have sent a letter and petition to council saying the situation downtown has gotten out of control.

Walking down the leafy sidewalk of the 3400 block of 35 Street three properties standout. The now boarded-up drug house sits next to another boarded-up property, next to a dilapidated house locals say is a crack den.

It appears the newly paved laneway that separates the three properties from the McCulloch Building is where a lot of the anti-social behaviour takes place.

On a bright sunny Tuesday afternoon, a skinny unkempt woman walks down the laneway shouting to herself. She's very agitated, manic. Another man staggers about, shouting to himself, he's agitated, and his clothes are filthy. They both look potentially aggressive.

Landscaper Robert Baril has been working in the area for the last few weeks and said he's found crack pipes and needles on an almost daily bases.

"People screaming, fighting, yelling, all of it," Baril says.

He says he saw the staggering man eat rancid baloney someone must have dropped on the sidewalk a few days earlier. He says the man does get aggressive.

Baril's female colleague says she won't work here alone and makes sure one of her male colleagues is always around.

Baril also says he sees plenty of prostitution openly happening during the day, omen standing on the sidewalk and getting into cars, only to be dropped off an hour later.

"I can't believe that," he said.

Baril says he spends most of his time landscaping million-dollar lakeside properties and the contrast with downtown is startling.

It's problems associated with big cities happening in Vernon, during the day, only one block away from Main Street where other people shop and work and drink coffee in contemporary cafes.

Linda Smith sits out the McCulloch Court Building where she lives.
Linda Smith sits out the McCulloch Court Building where she lives.

Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming said the issue for municipalities the size of Vernon had gotten more significant than it was a decade ago.

"Council, both this one and the previous one, has invested significantly more in RCMP and enforcement and bylaw, all that happening this year," Cumming said.

The mayor said the petition and letter would be on council's upcoming agenda Sept. 3.

However, when asked to comment on the allegation nothing had been done, he said it was an issue for council to discuss at its next meeting.

When pushed on the matter, he responded again by saying the allegations in the letter would be discussed by the council at its next meeting.

One block away, an 89-year-old resident of the Orchard Valley Retirement Residence sits on the wall outside the 34 Street independent living complex under the shade of a tree.

She has just finished bingo and is just about to go for a walk as she tries to do every day. She says she often sits outside and is rarely bothered by panhandlers. She says she's not scared at all go outside but certainly wouldn't do so at night.

Across the street outside the McCulloch building on 35 Street, 71-year-old Linda Smith sits on her walker and smokes a cigarette. Smith says she lived there for 12 years and comes out 10 times a day to smoke, and is rarely asked for money, and it has never been aggressive.

Another resident stands smoking outside the McCulloch building and says the same thing. She's only lived there for one month but hasn't been hassled at all.

But the story isn't so happy for everyone living at the McCulloch building. In the letter sent to council, several people mention they're scared to leave.

"Scared to go out since getting mugged," is one resident's comment.

Unfortunately, that fear does in some ways seem justified.

On July 27, an 84-year-old man was punched in the face and robbed in the afternoon walking down the alley in the 2800 block of 35 Street. Police arrested 20-year-old Trey Isaac in connection with the daytime mugging. He remains in custody charged with assault causing bodily harm and robbery.

Orchard Valley Retirement Residence general manager Dan Grant says he'd like the City to do more for people living in the area.

"It's very open, no one's hiding the drug use or the prostitution. The (business) owners around the area chase off open drug use on the property every week," Grant says. "My residents see that, and I wish they didn't."

Grant said he's been at Orchard Valley for three years and the situation has escalated dramatically in that time.

"It's getting worse and worse," he said.

"I think generally people are very tolerant... but I think it gets to a point where people feel they are not people looked out for and they are starting to feel unsafe."

The property on 35 Street recently raided by police.
The property on 35 Street recently raided by police.

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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