Vernon’s homeless population isn’t being left in the dark.
As dusk starts to fall earlier, and the cold of night settles in sooner, the marginalized population is being stuck without shelter long after the sun goes down. Those living on the streets who cannot find shelter beds have to set up camp somewhere, but there in no camping allowed in Vernon parks between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily.
“It’s getting dark a lot earlier so these people are wandering around instead of settling down,” said Coun. Juliette Cunningham, who has met with outreach organizations hoping the city could ease up on the timelines.
Therefore Vernon bylaw officials will not enforce the rules after 7 p.m., to allow people a chance to set up camp in the daylight.
“If I was out there on my own I’d rather find a place before it gets dark and cold,” said Coun. Catherine Lord. “Nine o’clock is too late.”
“We’re neutering the bylaw,” said Coun. Scott Anderson, noting that Victoria (which Vernon followed suit with the bylaw) is actually considering limiting time allowed in parks to no more than six hours.
“Many of the people here are transients of elsewhere. Our responsibility is to the people of Vernon, not to the people who come from elsewhere,” said Anderson.
Cunningham defends that council needs to balance the needs of varied members of the community. And she isn’t happy with the original time limit camping bylaw.
“Let’s be honest here, some of us supported this bylaw in hopes that all these people are going to disappear.”
The lax in enforcement is also opposed by Coun. Dalvir Nahal, who notes the mass of homeless people who now gather in Linear Park on 25th Avenue near People Place.
“It hasn’t really resolved anything, it’s just dispersed them,” she said.
Meanwhile bylaw officials say that there are currently only five to six individuals camping in Polson Park as they are dispersed and there are less tents out there.
Coun. Brian Quiring suspects that has nothing to do with the bylaw, but with the time of year and the weather.
“Typically numbers are lower in the winter than they are in the summer,” said Quiring.
Nahal isn’t sure what will come of the changes Vernon is working towards.
“It’s made the problem more in your face, it’s made it more visible. More people are seeing it,” she said, suggesting that could be a good thing as more exposure could lead to more compassion.
“They’re still people. Nobody wakes up thinking, ‘oh, I’m going to go sleep in a park.’”