Vernon's growing divide

Vernon city councillor Scott Anderson remains near the centre of one of Vernon's most divisive issues — the street-entrenched population and its relationship with the community.  

Anderson made his intentions known at the last council meeting he will soon be calling for council to approve public discussions on Vernon's street-entrenched population, much like the "town hall" meeting held by the Activate Safety Task Force on April 5.

"That is the model I would be bringing forward on a quarterly basis," he says. "Not to debate it back and forth, not to have feedback from the council, but for the council to just listen." 

Many feel the "town hall" was a success. 

"I think it was cathartic, but primarily it was an information gathering session. For us, there were things that we learned there that we wouldn't have otherwise."

Anderson, one of two council representatives on the task force, affirms he does not speak for the business community, but he did, however, tell council that that community has been underrepresented in discussions regarding the street-entrenched population. 

"My concern is that there is a growing perception out there that the Social Planning Council is not involving some of the stakeholders involved," he told city council.  "Their efforts are directed exclusively at a certain population, and I would hope that going forward the Social Planning Council would broaden its scope of input to include business." 

The Downtown Vernon Association is represented on the Partners in Action Committee, under the Social Planning Council. 

"But that is downtown," says Anderson. "We saw at the 'town hall' that people from all over Vernon have the same issue. They have no voice on the Social Planning Council."

Anderson doesn't feel that is sufficient and would like to see more business and community seated at the table. 

"I think they should have stakeholders who are members of the community, or individual business owners because sometimes organizations like the DVA or the Chamber of Commerce don't speak for the totality."

Anderson's comments have drawn the criticism of Vernon's Mayor Akbal Mund.

"I was taken aback by it," says Mund. 

Mund pointed out that a month earlier, Social Planning Council was taken off the Activate Safety Task Force, "which was going to meet with businesses, to listen to their concerns," says Mund. "On one side you are saying I don't want you to be a part of this group. On the other side, you're critiquing them for not being involved with businesses. You can't have both."

Anderson told Castanet in an earlier interview, groups like Social Planning, Interior Health and BC Housing were taken off the task force because "inviting too many people, with too broad a scope, it would render the Activate Safety Task Force redundant, at least in terms of how many organizations are looking at the root causes."

Mund calls Social Planning's record dealing with social issues in Vernon "phenomenal."

"Just in my short time, they have helped bring in $40-million in new housing for the community. They work with Interior Heath, they work with BC Housing, they work with all the other nonprofits that we have who try to help people. They work with RCMP and bylaw as well."

The discussion over Vernon's street-entrenched population has become an 'us and them' conversation. With both sides accusing the other of not listening.

Anderson says there is a perception the conversation is only going in one direction.

"The point of view for the business community for instance, and I hesitate to speak for the business community, but just as an example, would be not the root causes of addiction or mental illness or homelessness ... it would be the impacts on them and that is the focus of the task force."

Mund says we have to listen to the experts on solutions. "The experts are not sitting on council."

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