No. 2 Living rough

The plight of the city's homeless community was hard to dismiss in 2017 after people set up tents in Linear Park along 25th Avenue.

Homelessness is an issue in every city, but this summer the need for affordable housing was driven home as up to two dozen people camped at the highly visible Vernon park.

In the spring, City Council allowed the homeless population to camp in any local park for as long as they want.

Numerous tents soon sprang up in the wooded area of Polson Park near the boardwalk.

Before long, police, bylaw and ambulance crews were being called to the area on a regular basis for various incidents including a man being shot in the leg.

Many people said the park was no longer safe, that they refused to take their children to the downtown green space.

In August, council modified the rules to allow people to camp only from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., prompting many campers to vacate the far reaches of Polson Park in favour of Linear Park.

Other so-called tent cities popped up around town, but it was Linear Park that gained the most attention because of its highly visible locale.

Police and bylaw patrolled the area several times a day to ensure the population was adhering to the laws and bylaws of the city.

But still there were complaints from citizens of open drug use and defecation at the park. Some were angered by the tent city, others showed empathy by bringing food and clothes to the tent city, which was a block away from the Upper Room Mission.

Some businesses nearby said the homeless in the area intimidated their customers, keeping them away and hurting their operations.

Lengthy discussions raged on social media about what to do, with numerous opinions on how to do it.

Castanet spoke to several people living in Linear Park and the No. 1 thing they needed was affordable housing.

Vernon has had a near zero vacancy rate for some time and that in turn has driven up the price of rent to the point where even those with a job can not all afford a place to live.

But there is some relief on the horizon.

Approximately $11 million in provincial money will be spent on two projects designed to get people off the street and out of tent cities.

One is a new, permanent modular-housing project to be located on land owned by BC Housing at 27th Avenue and 35th Street which will provide 53 supportive housing units for people transitioning out of homelessness. These will be self-contained units with personal kitchens and washrooms.

As well, a new permanent modular shelter with approximately 45 beds will be constructed at 2307 43rd St. to expand capacity of the current homeless shelter and transitional housing development at Howard House.

All of the units will be operated by the John Howard Society of the North Okanagan. 

Work is expected to start in the New Year.

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