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Vernon  

'Take back our city'

Josh Winquist

More than a hundred concerned Vernonites showed up at a town hall meeting at the Schubert Centre Thursday night.

The event was put together by the Activate Safety Task Force to provide the business community with an opportunity to voice its concerns over issues involving Vernon's street-entrenched population. 

"It is time to take back our city," was the mantra of most who stepped to the podium. 

"They have been pushing us for years. Let's push them back a little bit and gain back our town." 

Speaker after speaker shared stories of witnessing open drug use, finding paraphernalia, garbage and feces, experiencing crime and intimidation, dousing lit fires, encountering sex in public spaces; their words painted a picture of a city held hostage by its street-entrenched population. 

"We pay taxes, they do not," said one man. "How do non-paying taxpayers have more rights than taxpayers?" He asked.

Another speaker said, "There is a segment of our population that makes it difficult for us to do our jobs."

"Every morning I am cleaning up after them, and it is BS," said another.

The idea of more bylaws and an increased presence of enforcement were offered by some of the speakers as a solution. 

Some wanted to see the cord cut, stop the handouts and give the members of the street-entrenched population a kick in the pants to get them on the straight and narrow. 

"There are some of these people that genuinely need help, and we should be giving them help. But there are others that don't need our help. They need a kick in the ass," said one business owner. 

'Us and them' was the common theme used by many of the speakers.

Darrin Taylor, the chair of the task force acted as the event's moderator.

"Around this table, at this task force, there is a clear understanding that not all homeless people, in fact, the vast majority of homeless people don't harm anyone," he said to the crowd. "We are talking about a very specific population and their behaviours."     

"I want to caution anyone who's bringing these issues to our attention that to castigate anyone who battles addiction or struggles with homelessness blankety as the cause of the troubles facing our business community is simply wrong."   

So, while frustration was obvious, so too was pride, passion and even compassion for the community. 

Some speakers talked about the need for education and treatment, community shelters and safe injection sites. 

Some talked about their love for Vernon and their desire to find a solution that works for all involved. 

"We are all here. We will all help," said one lady. " Just figure a way to make it better. To take it back."

The task force will hold weekly meetings to continue to discuss the issue and form recommendations for Vernon City Council. It hopes to present recommendations to Vernon City Council on July 9.

"The natural progression will be to identify issues, separate those issues into jurisdictions and begin to zero in on a workable semblance of recommendations," said Taylor.

Those recommendations must focus on remedies available to the municipality and not the province or federal government.



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