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Vernon council to ban camping in Linear Park, explore task force

FILE PHOTO - Shopping carts can be seen at Linear Park, right beside the People Place, on the side of 25 Avenue, Oct. 3, 2017. Vernon council is banning camping in Linear Park effective February 2018.
October 23, 2017 - 5:09 PM

VERNON - Vernon council is banning camping in Linear Park effective February 2018 and exploring the idea of a task force to address concerns about homelessness and illicit activity in the city.

The actions come after a wave of complaints from local merchants stating not enough is being done to keep Vernon safe or to support small business owners feeling the impacts of a growing transient and street-entrenched community.

Business owner Vicki Eide spoke to council and implored them to do more, such as upping bylaw and police patrols to “put the heat” on people engaging in illicit activity.

Councillors Juliette Cunningham and Brian Quiring — both of whom have businesses in downtown Vernon — maintained that it is still a safe place to be.

Eide disagreed.

“It is not safe and we’re not going to pretend that it is,” Eide said, flanked by numerous other business owners who came to show their support.

Following Eide’s presentation, Vernon council approved a motion to prohibit camping in Linear Park effective Feb. 1, 2018. Coun. Scott Anderson says by that time of year, most people will have cleared out of the park already.

“At that point, we’ll be displacing nobody, but it will be sending a message for next year that we won’t be allowing something to take root,” Anderson says.

READ MORE: Vernon businesses express frustration over illegal activity and transients downtown

The decision comes after a recent announcement from the John Howard Society that its extreme weather response program is expanding to offer mats 24 hours a day, rather than 12 hours, so people will have a place to go during the day.

Eide’s calls for more police patrols were heard by RCMP Supt. Jim McNamara, who attended the council meeting. On his way out, McNamara told reporters that officers have been instructed to take a “zero tolerance approach” to illicit activity.

“I think what we heard today is there’s a perception there’s a public safety issue. We also heard there isn’t a public safety issue. But you know, if people are downtown and they’re fearful that’s a concern,” McNamara said.

He added that the RCMP also works with other service agencies in the downtown.

Asked if the detachment needs more police officers, McNamara said: “More police officers is always a good thing. I understand that there’s challenges for tax dollars and everything else, but more police officers certainly wouldn’t hurt this situation.”

Council is also exploring the idea of forming an independent task force to come up with recommendations around the homeless issue. Such recommendations could include hiring commissionaires, establishing a safe drug use site, or providing washroom facilities, but Lord feels those ideas should come from a task force made up of stakeholder groups and agencies, not just council.

Council chambers were packed with business owners today as merchant Vicki Eide asked politicians to do more to make downtown Vernon a safe place.
Council chambers were packed with business owners today as merchant Vicki Eide asked politicians to do more to make downtown Vernon a safe place.

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