British Columbia

'We can set the standard higher': Vernon tackles street crime and safety issues

A Vernon task force is urging the city to invest in more police and security patrols, public washrooms and develop a needle refund program in order to clean up the city's streets and reverse a perceived sense of lawlessness and deterioration within the downtown core.

Police patrols, needle refund program and public washrooms needed to clean up streets, task force urges.

Recommendations range from increased police and security patrols to more needle deposit containers and public washrooms. (Canadian Press)

A Vernon task force is urging the city to invest in more police and security patrols, public washrooms and develop a needle refund program in order to clean up the city's streets and reverse a perceived sense of lawlessness and deterioration within the downtown core.

The recommendations were among 43 action points presented to city council on Monday by the Activate Safety Task Force, which spent the last several months studying the impact of Vernon's street community on local businesses.

The city-appointed task force is made up of members of the business community, city councillors, the RCMP, city bylaw officers and members of the public.

"As a community, we are really at a crossroads here," said task force chair Darrin Taylor.

"Do we sit back and go: 'What can we do? Every community has these problems. It's the way it is. It could be worse.' Or do we stand up and say: 'Hold on a second, we can do better. We can set the standard higher.'" 

The task force identified key areas of concern ranging from open drug use and a lack of enforcement, to discarded needles and a fractured relationship between social agencies and businesses.

Recommendations to address issues on the street

The report then outlined 43 recommendations for the City of Vernon. Among them: 

  • Hiring more bylaw officers.
  • Hiring a private security firm for after hours patrols.
  • Requesting the RCMP to arrest 'johns' to hinder prostitution.
  • Expanding the RCMP bike and foot patrols downtown.
  • Encouraging the Interior Health Authority to focus on full treatment of addictions, as well as harm reduction measures.
  • Purchasing needle deposit containers.
  • Setting up a needle refund program.
  • Setting aside funding to support cleanup of illegally dumped garbage and refuse.
  • New public toilets.
  • Requiring supermarkets to install anti-theft devices on shopping carts and to retrieve abandoned shopping carts.

"I, once again, stress there exists a sense of urgency to act," Taylor said after delivering his report to city council.

"Not only business, but families, seniors and visitors to our city are counting on you."

Absent from the task force were social agencies that work directly with Vernon's homeless and people suffering from addiction.

A need for housing

Kelly Fehr, the co-executive director of Turning Points Collaborative Society, formerly known as the John Howard Society of the North Okanagan, was at the city council meeting to hear the report.

Fehr supported the efforts of the business community to address the social issues.

"Some great examples of things that we think are positive are increasing police and bylaw presence. That's something we have been advocating for quite some time."

However, he said the drastic need for housing for the city's homeless is at the root of many of the issues identified by the task force.

"We can institute as many challenges as we want, but until we really address that housing crisis we are going to be running into the same roadblocks over and over again."

City council accepted the report and ordered staff to prioritize the recommendations, so the city can begin to take action on them.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan

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