'Condemning the unhoused is not the solution,' says Turning Points

Changing face of homeless

The director of housing at Vernon's Turning Points Collaborative Society says issues surrounding crime, homelessness and drug use in downtown Vernon are not as simple as pointing a finger at the outreach and shelter provider.

"It's disappointing to be portrayed negatively," Shelley Kiefiuk said Thursday, following concerns raised by downtown residents.

"We can't bare responsibility for all instances of crime downtown."

Kiefiuk says being a good neighbour "is extremely important to us – and to the people who use our services."

"We experience some of the same issues at our own sites, and our staff and clients help to look after situations.

"We have two professional security persons on site 24/7, staff hourly make rounds and grounds checks. We engage with people if they are loitering outside and not using our services.

"We want neighbours to know they can reach out to us with concerns ... the system seems to be working well. We want them to know they can call any time."

Kiefiuk acknowledged Turning Points may be an easy target when residents are fed up and afraid – but the matter is not as simple as people may think.

"Condemning the unhoused is not the solution.... Things are not completely within our control" when they happen off site, Kiefiuk said.

She said the "stereotypical face of homelessness" is changing.

People make assumptions about substance use, mental health and that those on the street are coming from other communities, she said – "but now, it's families, working families ... it's all tied to the cost of living, the cost of housing. Maybe they have lost employment during the pandemic.

"People are competing for what little rentals are available. There are bidding wars."

All this and more can lead to people being on the street or living out of their cars.

Kiefiuk says what Turning Points can do is "continue to use the strategies we have to foster healthy community relationships."

"We work hard to provide shelter and housing to vulnerable community members."

Over the past two and half years, Kiefiuk said Turning Points has built or purchased 147 units of housing in Vernon, and another 104 are on the way.

The organization currently has 91 clients in shelter spaces and turns away an average of three people a night. Its hotel room room program utilizes 87 hotel/motel rooms and houses 144 people.

"These people would otherwise be on the streets," she says.

The hotel occupants include 11 families with children.

Downtown issues came up at Vernon city council this week following instances of makeshift shelters being set up on private property, public defecation, and allegations of criminal activity in the area around the Schubert Centre.

Kiefiuk said Turning Points has nothing to do with what may go on in a privately owned apartment building.

"We understand the impact of the unhoused and unhelped on the community," said Kiefiuk. "We respond by continuing to do the good work we are doing."

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