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A memorial for the homeless

The idea of creating a memorial to remember the homeless who lost their lives on Vernon's streets has been brought forward for city council consideration.

Chuck Harper, Community Chaplain for the First Baptist Church is asking the city for a small site in Polson Park, in an already existing garden, by the gazebo, for a rock memorial monument.

Harper says he was spurred into action when another of the men he knew and worked with died on the streets and his research showed that Vernon had lost 14 homeless people in 2013.

“A few months ago as my wife and I were driving downtown I noticed a couple of our guys panhandling. Both men had extremely compromised health issues and addictions and I mentioned to her in passing, 'I wonder which one of those guys would be the next one to die.' Unfortunately a few days later one of those gentlemen, Ron, passed away,” shared Harper.

In reaction to that, he conducted some research on how other cities have handled the issue. He discovered memorials for men and women who died on the streets in Santa Clara, California as well as Edmonton, London and Toronto.

“The issues of homelessness and poverty will continue to affect the lives of our marginalized people and although 14 is a high number for us we will see more people die here in Vernon,” said Harper. “I wanted to do something  respectful, something that honours the lives of our street friends, our family members; people who are dealing with mental illness, addiction, suicide and murder.”

Shortly after his vision came together of the memorial, a large stone in Polson Park with a commemorative plaque inscribed with the words, 'Honouring and Remembering lives lost through homelessness in Vernon'.

“A place where our homeless folk could go to remember those lives lost, their friends, in a respectful quiet setting, a place where family could go and a place where the public could be reminded of the affects of homelessness, addiction, mental illness and lifestyle choices that impact us all.”

He also hoped that the memorial would park a place where organizations, community stakeholders and the public could gather annually to reflect on homelessness in the community.

“We can gather together, we can remember lives lost and we can talk about the things we are doing to move forward in eliminating homelessness and poverty within our community,” said Harper.

Although city council was not making any definitive decisions at Monday's meeting Harper did receive support.

“I commend you on taking this initiative and taking this on, it is important,” mentioned Councillor Catherine Lord.

“This will be a hard one for us not to do. Thank you for bringing forward an issue that is clearly of no personal benefit and you are thinking of the community and I think that is very commendable,” added Mayor Rob Sawatzky.

Councillor Bob Spiers gave his support, but asked that the plaque read 'Greater Vernon' instead of just 'Vernon' which was supported by Harper.

The memorial rock will be donated and delivered at no cost, the City will only be required to place it in the garden.

The John Howard Society, where Harper works as a residential worker, has also agreed to take on any future maintenance or repairs to the memorial.

The memorial monument received unwavering letters of support from Jake Spoor, General Manager of The Upper Room Mission Society, David MacBain, Community Ministries Director of The Salvation Army Vernon, Linda Ferguson, Acting Executive Director of the First Nations Friendship Centre and Annette Sharkry, Executive Director of the North Okanagan Social Planning Council

City council will discuss the request at its next meeting on June 23.  

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