Darrin Taylor from the Activate Safety Task Force speaks to Vernon council before packed council chamber (Pete McIntyre/Beach Radio News photo)
A Vernon task force looking into the impact of the street entrenched population on local businesses has made dozens of recommendations to city council.
Darrin Taylor, who chaired a nine person committee on the issue, says their mandate was to address issues related to the impact of homelessness, poverty, addictions and criminal behaviour on the local business community.
Taylor told council — and the more than 100 people who packed into council chambers — much of their input came from an townhall in April attended by 160 business people and stakeholders.
“Two broad themes emerged from that townhall: number one was a sense of lawlessness, and number 2 was a clear call for council to take action.”
Taylor spoke for a half hour, and listed the task force’s recommendations based on eight specific concerns.
More enforcement was the first issue he spoke of, calling for the expansion of the RCMP downtown enforcement unit including ongoing foot and bike patrols, and for police to arrest johns to curb prostitution in the city.
“We ask that council support a pro-active instead of complaint-initiated approach by bylaw to issues related to drug use, graffiti, litter, prostitution and panhandling. That perhaps is the most significant of those recommendations.”
For bylaw, they recommended two new full time bylaw hires to focus on seasonal foot and bike patrols in trouble spots.
Taylor says the extra enforcement would not unfairly target the homeless and poor.
“The behaviours and criminal activity I speak of is being perpetrated by a very small, but aggressive segment of the street entrenched population. RCMP support that contention. The majority of people who are homeless and living on our streets don’t harm anyone,” said Taylor.
The other issues included drug use and prevention, shopping carts, defecation and urination in public areas, improperly discarded needles, graffiti, and the relationship between businesses and public service providers.
Taylor says he realizes some of the items have significant impacts financially.
“However, the people of Vernon have waited long enough. It’s time for action.”
In response to the report, council unanimously agreed to get city staff to review the recommendations, and come back to the next meeting (July 23) with a plan to apply them.
Councillor Catherine Lord has also asked staff to determine which ideas can be done quickly, and which others are longer term.
“There are a number of things that can be done very quickly, such as starting bylaw officers at 7 am. One of the other things is putting businesses together with the service providers. That is something that should be able to be done fairly soon.”
Mayor Akbal Mund says some of the suggestions will be easy to apply.
“Some of them are already ongoing and existing. Bylaw, for example, starts at 7:30 now in the summer hours. Some of them are going to be very difficult and have tax a implications.”
Mund says staff will come back to the next meeting with proposed costs to each of the ideas.
“Let’s say if the total costs of all these recommendations are a half million dollars, that’s a percent and a half on taxes.”
Mund says the suggestions are directed at the downtown core.
“Not everybody has a business in the downtown core, therefore how does the rest of the taxpayers feel about this, and that’s what you have to be very cognizant of,” Mund told Beach Radio News.
Councillor Dalvir Nahal says the City needs to work with the businesses to find solutions.
“We also as a council do need to take a little bit of accountability that we might have let it go on too long. And I think a lot of the recommendations, hands-on, this is what we need to do,” says Nahal who adds businesses can do their part by locking their garbage dumpsters overnight.
Councillor Juliette Cunningham felt some suggestions were mis-directed.
“I personally question there was some things there, is that really within our mandate? I just saw some things. I’m not comfortable telling Interior Health how to do their job and that kind of ting.”
Cunningham says it’s a huge issue.
“The fact is there is a lot of work being done everyday and we haven’t even seen that have a chance to come to fruition. That four story supported housing is going to be huge to help us address this because right now we don’t have the resources or the locations to help people with that need mental health and addictions supports.”