Why opening a new temporary homeless shelter in Vernon could become more difficult | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why opening a new temporary homeless shelter in Vernon could become more difficult

A room at the Our Place shelter.
November 12, 2019 - 6:30 PM

Vernon city council has approved the first stage in changing regulations that would mean new temporary homeless shelters have to jump through more hoops in order to open.

The proposed zoning bylaw amendment would change current building regulations for sites zoned for temporary shelters. Vernon council voted unanimously, without any debate, to approve the first step in changing the zoning at its meeting today, Nov. 12. Councillor Kelly Fehr declared a conflict of interest and removed himself from council.

According to a report by city staff, the development regulations would add rules for new temporary shelters to require screened outdoor storage, setbacks to reduce congregation on or near the sidewalk, designated on-site smoking areas and exterior lighting.

The report states people in need of emergency shelter services often carry all of their personal belongings with them at all times.

"If the belongings cannot be accommodated in a shelter, individuals may choose not to stay at the facility," reads the report. The recommendation is that temporary shelters have a minimum storage space requirement per shelter bed.

The proposal also suggests shelters have an internal courtyard to create an "off the street" space where clients can spend time without "blocking the sidewalks or potentially disrupting neighbouring properties."

Temporary shelters would also be required to have large windows to allow staff to easily view exterior spaces in an effort to reduce crime.

The consideration to amend rules surrounding new temporary shelters date back to February 2019, when council passed a motion requiring community consultation and enhancing development requirements for temporary shelters, overdose prevention and safe injection sites.

The motion was then followed with more specific details in August when a motion was passed which outlined storage, building setbacks to prevent people from congregating on the sidewalk, smoking areas and exterior lighting.

How the proposed extra regulations would affect new shelters opening isn't clear but B.C. Housing doesn't seem concerned.

"The recommendations that are being put forward to council are already practices and requirements that BC Housing considers or implements when opening a shelter. We do not perceive these recommendations as a barrier to moving forward with sites," B.C. Housing said in a statement to iNFOnews.ca.

"B.C. Housing does everything possible to ensure that shelters fit well into their surrounding neighbourhood, while providing a safe and warm place for people experiencing homelessness while more permanent housing options are identified. This can include elements like a designated on-site smoking space, as well as storage, and exterior lighting. Operators of these important facilities also work hard to limit loitering on the sidewalks and typically conduct regular sweeps of the adjacent streets for garbage."

For the zoning bylaw to receive final approval it still has to go to public consultation as part of the zoning bylaw amendment process.

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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