Vernon and North Okanagan News
Social Planning Council Executive Director Annette Sharkey says there has been a significant reduction in the number of homeless camps in Vernon since 2009.
But there is still much work to be done.
In a semi-annual report to Vernon City Council on Monday, Sharkey highlighted the work of Vernon's Partners in Action group, a cooperative of community stakeholders whose main focus is crime prevention through social development.
The group's homeless camps action team -- known as the Camp Okanagan Outreach Liaison team, or COOL for short -- recorded 30 camps in Vernon in June of 2009. In 2012 and 2013, only two known homeless camps have been recorded in the Vernon area.
"We located two camps this year, and that [number] has been consistent the past couple of years. We've been doing a good job of connecting the homeless with housing," she said.
Sharkey credits the team's success to a strong model for implementing a housing and homelessness strategy in the North Okanagan, and of course, the people who make it happen.
"Behind this report is quite an amazing community. I don't know that this could happen in another community," she said.
The strategy includes affordable and attainable housing components, as well as services such as the Gateway Shelter.
The last and most crucial focus of the strategy is to secure permanent supported housing for this vulnerable population.
Without this piece, Sharkey says, it is virtually impossible to break the cycle of homelessness.
"There are still gaps that need to be addressed. We can bring people in from outside and connect them with services, but it's very difficult to get them into permanent housing," she said.
Most mainstream "open market" housing options are not attainable for individuals experiencing homelessness, due to addictions, mental health, or other barriers that private landlords are not able to overlook.
These individuals have a higher probability for success when they have access to ongoing services and support as part of their housing arrangements.
"There is still a lack of supported housing and addiction treatment services in Vernon. We've solved part of the problem, and now we are focusing on the other piece of the puzzle. We still have a lot of work to do," said Sharkey.
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