British Columbia

Vernon votes against relocating homeless camps from public park to city hall

A proposal to ban overnight camping at a public park in Vernon, B.C., and instead open up the grounds of city hall to homeless people has been quashed by council.

‘Personally, I’m more afraid of the goose poop in Polson Park than any homeless person,’ says one councillor

Blake Dergez, a homeless man who sometimes sleeps in Polson Park, says the motion to move the camps doesn't address the real issues at hand. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

A proposal to ban overnight camping at a public park in Vernon, B.C., and instead open up the grounds of city hall to homeless people has been quashed by council. 

Coun. Scott Anderson put forward the motions earlier this month, arguing that a camping ban at Polson Park would clean up the city's "jewel" which some residents complained is now an "eyesore" because of people living there. 

"[It] would give Polson back to the taxpayers, many of whom are afraid to use the park anymore," Anderson said at council on Monday.

He highlighted concerns around drug use, crime and littering as problems in the park and argued that having the park occupied by campers damages tourism in Vernon, as well as bothers residents and local businesses. 

Not everyone on council agreed. 

"Personally, I'm more afraid of the goose poop in Polson Park than any homeless person," said Coun. Dalvir Nahal.

Relocating campers 

Municipalities aren't allowed to ban camping outright if there are no shelter beds available, B.C. Supreme Court ruled in 2015, and so if it's banned in one location — like the park — it has to be allowed in another location. 

Opening up the grounds of city hall would send a message to the public that politicians are aware of issues of homelessness in the city, Anderson said. 

"City hall grounds are close to the police, close to the fire station and close to the same services utilized now," he said. 

"From a logistical and security perspective, it makes perfect sense."

Coun. Scott Anderson proposed the grounds of city hall be opened up for overnight camping. (Brady Strachan)

He also noted in his motion the hope that some campers might not choose to relocate from the park to city hall and instead "either move away from Vernon or decide to take action to improve their situation."

Blake Dergez, a homeless man in Vernon who sometimes sleeps in Polson Park, said he thinks trying to move campers from a park to city hall misses the point. 

"It's not fixing the problem. It's just moving it from one place to the next," he said. 

"You want to solve the problem? Give them somewhere to stay." 

Anderson had also proposed reducing the hours of allowable camping and mandating that campers are out two hours earlier, at 7 a.m. instead of 9 a.m.

Both camping motions were defeated, with everyone on council voting against them on Monday except for Anderson.

With files from Brady Strachan

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