What Polson Park's many different users think about camps, homelessness and what the city could be doing - InfoNews

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What Polson Park's many different users think about camps, homelessness and what the city could be doing

This shelter could be seen from the boardwalk pathway in Polson Park June 7, 2017.
June 09, 2017 - 6:30 PM

"WE'RE NOT ALL DRUNKS OR DRUGGIES OR WHATEVER YOU THINK WE ARE"

VERNON - Most people you talk to in Polson Park say the growing homeless camp along the creek won’t stop them from visiting the green space, but they do have concerns.

We found no shortage of people out enjoying Polson Park on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, roughly two weeks after the City of Vernon decided to allow homeless people to camp in public spaces under specific circumstances. 

READ MOREA closer look at Vernon's approach to homeless camps

While there is little evidence of any overnight camping in the main area of the park, a stroll down the back boardwalk reveals numerous tents and shelter structures bordering the path. Unconfirmed estimates from campers suggest there are as many as 30 people staying there. Some shelters are hidden and at least one camper said it was “getting crowded."

Vernon resident Leigh Sindlinger, who often goes for walks through the park, says she doesn’t personally feel threatened by the campers, but understands that families with young children might be. She’s also concerned about the environmental and health aspects, and the amount of debris.

“It’s not an ideal place,” Sindlinger says. “I’m not against them needing a place to sleep but I really think we could do more.”

She believes the city should be exploring other options, including looking for a different, less family-oriented place where homeless people could have a tent city with washroom facilities and clean water.

“If that’s not an option then put in some sanitation for them (at Polson). Put in some outhouses. Arrange for some garbage collection and help make where they are staying right now safer for them and more enjoyable for other people that use the park,” she says.

Click here for past stories about homelessness in Vernon, and what the city, provincial government, and local organizations have been doing

Resident Robyn Thornton agrees that Polson Park is not the best location for a homeless camp.

“I feel sympathetic towards them but it just doesn’t seem right they’re in a park that’s supposed to be like a tourist attraction and a place for people to come with their children. It just doesn’t seem like the right environment,” she says.

Robyn Thornton doesn't think Polson Park is the right environment for a homeless camp.
Robyn Thornton doesn't think Polson Park is the right environment for a homeless camp.

But there are reasons campers feel the park is a good fit.

“It’s close to town for all our amenities. Doctors, the Mission — for a lot of people that’s how they eat,” says one camper, who did not feel comfortable giving her name for work and privacy reasons. “I need to be close to work, and close to Work B.C. I can’t afford to drive, obviously. I’d rather not be so out in the open. I would much rather be up on the mountain, and be able to cook, be able to have a campfire or build an outdoor oven, but how do you get into town? It just doesn’t work.”

She, for one, is relieved the city decided not to impose time limits on camping.

“It’s the humane thing to do,” she says. “Otherwise, what do you do? You pack all this stuff around with you? I have one milk crate of dishes, one milk crate of toiletries, one milk crate of towels, linens. We keep it down to a bare minimum. What do you do? You’re supposed to carry all this stuff around with you? I care about how I look. I bathe every day. I make sure I have privacy when I bathe. I have to work every day, I have to be presentable.”

But, she still technically faces eviction if shelter space becomes available and the city is entitled to enforce its parks bylaw. She’s also been warned by bylaw about her shelter structure, which is mostly built with natural materials.

“I have a notice saying I have to tear it down,” she says. “They’re saying I can’t have a structure.”

Some campers have been given notices informing them that certain shelters are not allowed.
Some campers have been given notices informing them that certain shelters are not allowed.

The city’s manager of protective services Clint Kanester confirms that while temporary, overnight sheltering is allowed when shelters are full, campers are not permitted to erect permanent structures.

“There are several overnight shelterers that have been given these notices as they have been constructing non-temporary structures, or not shelters that can be removed within a short period of time, but are rather chopping down trees and building additional structures to store goods that they are hauling in,” he says.

Safety concerns may be assuaged by the fact that bylaw services are stepping up patrols and enforcement over the summer and fall, but some people still feel apprehensive about walking through that particular part of the park where people are camping.

“I must say, it’s all right today, there’s a lot of people out. But when it’s fairly deserted I don’t feel safe walking through there. It’s just a little bit unnerving,” Thornton says.

Polson Park on June 7, 2017.
Polson Park on June 7, 2017.

Jordan Miller, who was at the park on Thursday with children, says she’s not comfortable staying at the park past a certain hour, and is concerned about the amount of drug paraphernalia.

“You come here sometimes and there’s needles in the bathrooms,” she says.

Polson Park is a beautiful place and an attraction she recommends to any friends or family who visit the area. But, she believes it’s losing its appeal to families and hopes the city does more to address the issue, including possibly building another homeless shelter.

While park patrons may feel unsafe at times, so do campers.

“You make sure you have an escort home,” a female camper says. “You don’t want to walk through the park alone at night, none of us girls do. There’s some strange stuff that happens in the park. Not any one of us here, there's other people that go in the park as well. There’s been some unfortunate situations.”

She acknowledges that some homeless people may do drugs, but asks that people not make assumptions about everyone who lacks a home.

“We’re not all drunks and druggies or whatever you think we are. A lot of us are just normal people that got caught in this lack of housing situation. There is no housing. None. For me, this isn’t a party. This is survival.”


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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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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