British Columbia

'They trust us': New homeless outreach team formed in Vernon

A group of volunteers has banded together in the North Okanagan to form the Vernon Homeless Outreach Team Association. Every Thursday night, they pull carts around the the city carrying food, hygiene products, Narcan and other supplies, offering assistance to people who are homeless.

The group offers food, clothing and supplies to people in need

Members of the Vernon Homeless Outreach Team Association hand out supplies to people in need one night a week. (Submitted by Jeanne Arcand)

A group of volunteers has banded together in the north Okanagan to form the Vernon Homeless Outreach Team Association.

Every Thursday night, they pull carts around the the city carrying food, hygiene products, Narcan and other supplies, offering assistance to people who are homeless.

"[We] just let people know that we're out there and we care about them," said Jeanne Arcand, the president of the association.

The team has been working together for the past year but only recently officially registered as a society. 

Team members Anita Clifford and Jeanne Arcand hand out supplies in downtown Vernon in the winter. (Submitted by Jeanne Arcand)

Arcand used to be a member of another outreach organization, H.O.P.E., which helps homeless and exploited women in Kelowna and Vernon.

"I loved it, except for we found it very hard because H.O.P.E. is for women, so, you know, there's a lot of men out there," she said.

"So, we decided to form our own group that services both the men and the women."

Community reception

So far, the reception they have received in the community has been both "good and bad," Arcand told Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

Homelessness and addiction have been a point of contention in Vernon. 

Plans to open an overdose prevention site this summer were halted in April to allow time for further consultation, and in June, more than 40 people attended an emotional town hall meeting, sharing their frustrations in relation to crime, homelessness and drug use in the downtown core.

Last week, Vernon city council directed staff  to prepare a zoning bylaw amendment with additional development regulations for future emergency shelters built in the city. Some of the requested development regulations include setbacks to reduce congregation on the sidewalk, exterior lighting and designated onsite smoking areas.

"We never know what we're going to get," said Arcand.

"We get someone coming up and you know, handing us a $100 bill, or we get someone that's ranting and raving about how we're enabling [the homeless]."

Many of the people the group helps have addiction issues, but there are also lots who don't, she added.

The group has formed strong relationships with many of the people they assist, but the crowd has changed over the past year, due to the opening of the new emergency shelter, Our Place, funded by B.C. Housing. 

"We had about 46 of our homeless people go into Our Place housing. So that's good," said Arcand.

"So now, we have a whole new crew that we're getting to know. They're very nice to us. You know, they trust us. They come running when they see us, so that we're welcomed."

With files from Daybreak South

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