Keeping homeless calm

Vernon's COOL team, which deals with the homeless, is working on a strategy to keep street people calm once a city bylaw takes effect that forces tents to be taken down daily in local parks and public spaces.

On June 26, council gave first reading to a bylaw that would allow the homeless to camp in Polson Park and a number of other public spaces from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. but only if shelter beds are not available. The bylaw is in keeping with current law. After 9 a.m., shelters would have to be removed.

The COOL team, made up of social service agencies, outreach workers, community policing and bylaw, is developing a work plan.

“This is vital,” said Annette Sharkey of the Social Planning Council who spoke to city council on Monday. “The key is to let everybody know what to expect and keep everybody calm.”

While the homeless are being encouraged to reduce their belongings, Sharkey said there is still a big concern about storage during the day.

Businesses are pitching in to help build some storage at the Upper Room Mission.

Sharkey said the Community Foundation of the North Okanagan has supplied grant funding, Home Depot has offered two sheds and Everton Ridge Homes has offered a project coordinator and labour.

“They will be built before the bylaw comes into effect,” Sharkey promised council, adding that another agency was also trying to find some storage space.

On another topic, Sharkey said there appeared to be fewer needles in public places. In fact, she said the numbers found around the community were at a five-year low.

“There may not be less needles but we are having better results in the cleanup effort.”

She said this was due in part to a monthly community cleanup campaign involving the street population which gave them “a sense of belonging to the community” and a greater effort by businesses to get information on cleaning up needles and using proper sharps containers.

Council was also advised that viruses, including HIV and Hepatitis C, were difficult to get from needles.

“I understand that a parent with a child, how you can really be upset and scared (at finding a needle),” said Sharkey. “There's been no reported transmission of these diseases from a needle in a park in Canada.”

Information supplied by Sharkey states: “In general, a needle stick injury runs the risk of contracting HIV at 0.3 per cent and HCV (Hep C) at three per cent - and only if the needle contains that virus and the virus is still active. This is only under perfect circumstances.”

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