Tense talk over town hall

UPDATE: 4:05 p.m.

A representative from Interior Health Authority (IHA) called Castanet to clarify points discussed at the council meeting.

Erin Toews, communications consultant for IHA, said the authority is not putting out an RFP on May 24, but gathering feedback from stakeholders by May 24. Toews said the RFP will be issued after all stakeholders are consulted.

ORIGINAL: 10:56 a.m.

Perhaps to illustrate how challenging it will be to find consensus among the masses on the issues of vagrancy, homelessness and open drug use in Vernon, city council debated the parameters of hosting a town hall on the subject for nearly 90 minutes, Monday.

The sometimes heated discussion revealed a deep frustration over the idea of yet more public consultation. Adding to the tension was a May 24 Interior Health request for proposals deadline on pending overdose prevention sites for Vernon.

"I have a very low expectation that a community meeting will give us a broad spectrum of proposals. All attempts to create deterrents for opiate use have failed miserably," Mayor Victor Cumming said. "There's well-documented examples of how to reduce opioids use in communities. My sense is this is a chance to hear opinions, and we can bring someone in to share expertise. I'm not sure the role of council for this."

Cumming suggested IHA is best positioned to determine the logistics.

Coun. Scott Anderson strenuously disagreed.

"Sometimes, I think we are going in the wrong direction. Perhaps we are making it too easy for the destructive behaviour to continue," Anderson said. "I don't think we can simply say it's their responsibility and we have nothing to do with it. We cannot simply throw up our hands and say it's IHA's baby."

Central to the tension is the appetite to continue working on harm reduction versus stricter deterrents.

"Facilitating bad behaviour doesn't work. Nor is giving them a roof over their head with no restraints. Harm reduction does not try to address the root cause of the problem," said Anderson.

The motion considered subject matter for the town hall, venue, moderated vs. facilitated, allocation of time to speak, and so on.

Coun. Kelly Fehr felt council would just be covering old ground with another public consultation.

"We've already gone through two cycles of this. We're going to be pissing off a lot of people. What are we hoping to receive that's new?" Fehr asked.

"The city has a responsibility to consult on things within our mandate. This leads you into a swamp you can't come out of," the mayor said. "I'd be very, very cautious with this. I'd really push for us to not engage with people making presentations. I have no desire to sit there for an evening and have a to-ing and fro-ing."

"I think IHA's deadline is arbitrary. They are not consulting the community," Anderson said. He added a motion to ask the IHA for a 30-day extension for the RFP, which passed unanimously.

In the end, council decided the town hall would be held within 30 days, would be three hours long, and would allow attendees to speak for a maximum of two minutes.

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