British Columbia

Vernon votes to rein in homeless by banning shopping carts in all public spaces

Vernon city council has passed a bylaw prohibiting shopping carts in public spaces, one of 46 recommendations to help deal with homelessness affecting businesses.

City council votes in favour of bylaw banning homeless persons from using shopping carts for their possessions

Homeless advocate Judy Graves says that shopping carts are often the only way that people who live on the street can manage to carry all of their possessions. (David Horemans/CBC)

Vernon city council has voted for a city-wide shopping cart ban in all public spaces.

It was one of 46 recommendations brought to council by the Activate Safety Task Force, all focused on the effects of homelessness and poverty on the business community.

The ban was originally meant to only affect the business improvement area of the city, but during a lengthy debate on the issue, a city-wide ban was recommended.

Council voted 4-1 in favour of it.

Coun. Brian Quiring, who was was on the task force, is a strong supporter of the ban.

"We certainly don't feel good about having to do this," Quiring said.

"People that fill shopping carts with many things that come out of dumpsters, those people need help because they have trouble determining what is actually valuable to them and what is something that they need as opposed to things they just like to collect." 

Juliette Cunningham, the lone councillor who voted against the ban, says it will just exacerbate the situation and worsen the relationship between the city and the homeless.

"Trying to find simple solutions to complex matters, just does not work," Cunningham said.

"At this point in time, our bylaw [enforcement officers] and RCMP have a good working relationship with our street- entrenched population and I just see opportunities for a lot of conflict."

A move to get people into shelters

Quiring says he hopes the move will allow people to move into shelters and access the services that are available to them.

"Sometimes, you need to do something that is not easy to do and is controversial, but hopefully, ultimately will get these people the help that they need," he said.

"A lot of people that are putting their possessions in a shopping cart don't access a shelter because they have everything with them and they have the ability to set up a camp."

But Vernon only has two permanent shelters, as well as an extra 10 beds that originally opened as a temporary winter shelter funded by B.C. Housing. Those 10 beds have remained open.

Randene Wejr, the co-executive director of Turning Point Collaborative which runs the shelters, says that they are operating at capacity and that people with shopping carts are able to access the same services as people without.

"They can access our services with their carts, but we just don't have any space right now," Wejr said.

Coun. Cunningham says she is the only person on council who has been working to try and find adequate housing for people in Vernon through social planning.

"I'm all in favour of pushing people off the streets, but you have to have somewhere to push them to," she said.

Backpacks to replace carts?

Long time housing advocate Judy Graves says the bylaw is concerning.

​"I'm really saddened by the way Vernon has approached this," Graves said.

"Shopping carts provide for people a way of of keeping their blankets dry ... a way of carrying a change of clothes, of carrying things that are very valuable to them that no one would want to give up."

During the debate on the issue, the idea of providing backpacks was floated as a way to replace the carts, but Graves says that often people on the street are disabled and the burden of a large backpack may not be feasible.

Meanwhile, Vernon council will wait for staff to report back on the wording of the bylaw and recommendations for enforcement.

Listen to the full interview with Brian Quiring:

Listen to the full interview with Juliette Cunningham:

With files from Daybreak South

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