Vernon shopping cart ban seen as 'unkind' by city's homeless - InfoNews

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Vernon shopping cart ban seen as 'unkind' by city's homeless

After 20 years of being homeless Sean Grant said he'll have to adapt to Vernon new shopping cart ban.
July 24, 2018 - 5:18 PM

VERNON - Rochelle Nelson lives rough on the streets in Vernon. At age 40, she sleeps outside in a "little nook" that people don't know about. The building's private owner allows her to sleep there as long as she arrives no earlier than 9 p.m. and is gone by 7 a.m., she says. To keep her place, she keeps the "nook" spotlessly clean.

She uses a shopping cart to move her things because she has a fractured back, but she won't be able to use her cart for much longer. Vernon city councillors have voted to ban shopping carts on the city’s streets and sidewalks, a move designed to curtail trash and mess left by some homeless people.

"Unusually unkind," she says. "I think it's extremely rude…. I think it's rude they're not valuing people who need a care guide."

When the ban comes into force she doesn't know how she'll carry her belongings.

The proposed ban to restrict shopping carts from public property was one of 46 recommendations put forward to council by the city's Activate Safety Task Force during an unusually lengthy meeting at City Hall on July 24.

The original recommendation was to ban carts from the downtown core but was expanded to include the entire city under Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund's suggestion and passed, with Coun. Juliette Cunningham the only voice of dissent.

Coun. Scott Anderson - who also sat on the task force - defended council's decision to ban carts from public areas and applauded the mayor's decision to make the ban city wide.

"The amount of mess left around shows these are not cherished relics or things that they need to carry around with them," Anderson said.

He denied the ban was a callous solution to the complex problem of homelessness.

"You can call it callous, but allowing it to go doing [the homeless] a disservice," he said.

It's a sentiment shared by Darrin Taylor who headed the task force. The recommendation for the cart ban came about, Taylor says, after speaking to businesses and the citizens of Vernon.

"The message loud and clear from the business community was they simply didn't want carts rambling down the streets of Vernon," he said.

Taylor, himself a professional addictions counsellor, said it was made evident to the task force committee that the shopping carts were being used to "lug around unnecessary items."

"As an addictions professional engaging people in meaningful support and pushing them, and nudging them, and encouraging them in a clinically appropriate way to consider change is a lot easier when the circumstances around them make it difficult to continue doing what they've been doing," Taylor said.

Homeless Vernon resident Rochelle Nelson said the city's ban on shopping carts is
Homeless Vernon resident Rochelle Nelson said the city's ban on shopping carts is "unkind."

Turning Points Collaborative Society co-executive director Kelly Fehr said he didn’t have a problem with the bylaw per se, because the carts were largely stolen property, but the ban was concerning because it was a “deliberate action” taken in response to homeless citizens.

“The fact is, that is specifically geared towards... preventing homeless individuals from being able to transport their belongings,” said Kelly.

And while the homeless consider how they'll carry their meagre possessions around when the ban comes into force, the city now has to consider how they'll enforce the bylaw, providing it goes through next month.

"I would suggest bylaw officers are not going to go around dumping people's possessions on the ground and running off with their shopping carts," Anderson said. He suggested the bylaw may involve fines but admitted that giving fines to people who can’t pay is pointless.

"Holistically this is sending a message that we're not going to tolerate this, we're not going to," he added.

Along with the shopping cart ban, councillors also voted to look into a private model for needle collection and agreed that two of three bylaw officers would patrol problem areas by foot and bike patrols instead of hiring two new full-time equivalent officers at a cost of roughly $150,000.

Standing on the grassy verge at 25 Avenue not far from the intersection at 35 Street, Sean Grant greets the news on the shopping cart ban in a very diplomatic manner, admitting he doesn't own the cart.

"I understand the stores put money into these things," he said in a polite, mild-mannered voice. 

The 38-year-old says he's been homeless for 20 years and is used to adapting to whatever life throws at him. Grant uses the shopping cart to carry his clothes; food for him and his dog, Baby, and his bedding, as well as his personal belongings.

"It's going to make things difficult,” he says. ”I’m going to have to find a different means of keeping my things together.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 718-0428 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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