The street-entrenched population continues to leave its mark in Vernon.
The city’s bylaw department reports 46 per cent of its files are linked to dealing with this population. Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 22 the department had 1,859 files related to the people living on the streets, according to a recent report to Vernon council. That is up from the same period in 2018 when there were 1,598 files during the same period.
Meanwhile, the local RCMP is trying new tactics every day to address the issues.
”We are frustrated too,” said Supt. Shawna Baher. “I live here too.”
Along with personally visiting areas where homeless and addicts converge, Baher also expects her officers to be out on the streets daily.
On a recent visit to one of the areas, Baher gathered a group of about 25 people to ask “What would your children, or your parents, think of this?”
Many responded that they would not bring their loved ones to such areas. Baher pointed out Linear Park is a major artery, right near the city’s main intersection, with tourists coming and going.
“Can you see why individuals are upset? Would you be upset?” Baher asked them.
“Some people were surprised and got it and started to pick up all their garbage.”
The main culprit for the crime, loitering, littering and such, according to Baher, is drugs.
“The fentanyl crisis has really caused people to be more addicted than before. We have people that commit crimes to survive,” she said
“We have a huge addiction issue. The drugs are more potent than ever before. Services that used to be in place are not here.”
With that in mind, she urged residents to remember these are still people, many of whom have experienced some sort of trauma leading to their addiction.
“No one ever said that they wanted to be street-entrenched, homeless and addicted to drugs,” said Baher.
When asked about the RCMP’s position on an overdose prevention site in Vernon, Baher admitedshe isn’t sure if what’s proposed will work.
“I’m in favour of something, if it’s done correctly.”
When it comes to the street-entrenched population, the majority are using drugs in groups. They have naloxone kits and are trained to use them, plus they are in the public eye, according to Baher.
“They are not the population dying,” said Baher.
“We have to address the individuals who are still dying, and those are usually people who are still housed, and maybe using in secrecy. If you were addicted and living in a house but not at the point where you lost the house, would you hop on a bus or ride your bike down to a site to use?”
But Baher is not against safe injection sites.
“Used correctly they do work.”