VERNON - Vernon business owner Vicki Eide says she had to clean up vomit, excrement and condoms outside her store on an almost daily basis this summer. Another merchant, Mark Schroeder, says some customers arrived begging for the washroom: they’d been puked on outside.
“It’s very upsetting for my customers,” Schroeder says. “I have another location I am working on. If it works out, I’m leaving.”
The anecdotes come after what both Schroeder and Eide call a difficult summer. With what they believe to be a greater number of homeless, transient and street-entrenched people hanging out in the downtown area, they say issues of garbage, drug dealing and illicit activity climbed to unprecedented levels.
“It’s scaring the crap out of people,” Eide says. “I was hearing more and more from my customers that they were scared to come down here.”
Both Eide and Schroeder have operated businesses downtown Vernon for more than 20 years and say there were more problems this year than they have ever experienced before.
Out of frustration, Eide launched a petition calling on the City to do more — including stricter bylaws and more police enforcement — to make downtown Vernon a safer and inviting place. She distributed the petition to roughly 100 businesses and will be picking up the results over the next couple days. On Monday, she is expected to present her case to city council at an open meeting.
It won’t be the first time the issue of transients, panhandling, and homeless have come up at council. At a meeting earlier this month, Coun. Scott Anderson raised the issue, stating that merchants were suffering due to the influx of transients. He said the Vernon community is welcoming and “willing to give folks a hand up” but is not prepared to let the city “turn into a slum.” In response, Mayor Akbal Mund said that during his recent business walks, some shopkeepers did express frustrations with transients, but overall reported that business was steady.
That’s a sticking point for Eide, who says if Mund had come to her 33 Street tailor shop, she would have told him she’s lost business this past year.
“I think council — all of council, the mayor and other members — need to admit that there is a serious problem and go from there,” Eide says.
But not all businesses agree about the climate downtown. Juliette Cunningham (a Vernon city councillor) owns a consignment store on 30 Avenue and says she hasn’t had any problems with transients or customers feeling afraid to come to the store.
“We’ve been downtown 27 years, I haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary,” Cunningham says.
She says things could be different in other areas of downtown and “can’t speak for those businesses that are making those statements.”
“I need to hear what their concerns are,” she says.
She feels there are enough bylaw and police resources are available downtown and wants to focus on the root causes of homelessness to prevent the issues in the first place.
“This is a divisive issue, no question about it. We have to find a way to come together and try to resolve the issues. It’s a challenging one,” Cunningham says.
She says focussing on housing, and lobbying senior levels of government for funding and support, is a big part of the equation.
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