“I grew up in this town and I used methadone, but an injection site is a government-funded crack shack!”
“I don’t want Vernon Jubilee Hospital to host a safe injection site — there are patients, staff and visitors who would be affected.”
“My four-year old son has witnessed people shooting up.”
“Why should we care about the minority? They are destroying the city.”
There was anger. There were tears, but there were few concrete solutions at a town-hall meeting in Vernon Tuesday on how to solve the homeless, drug and mental health issues facing the city.
Forty-six speakers took to the mikes over 2.5 hours at the Vernon Recreation Centre. Listening were members of Vernon city council.
Facilitator Ed Grifone of Kelowna set the ground rules, telling the crowd of approximately 160 that they were there to present ideas, concerns and solutions, but “it’s not a debate. Council wants to hear ideas and solutions, council is a sponge and they are aware.”
Speakers were limited to two minutes, but several ignored the warning bell and spoke at length.
The location of a safe injection site was one of the recurring themes. While there was no consensus on a location, most wanted it away from the downtown core. One speaker who owned a downtown business was passionate that she didn’t want an overdose prevention site, “in our beautiful downtown.”
Dawn Tucker spoke of the recent death of a friend. “She wanted to be an RCMP officer, but she became addicted and went to a shelter and got sober. I hired her. She had a slip this week. If we had a safe injection site, maybe Megan would be alive.” One suggestion was that Vernon should use a mobile injection site, similar to ones used in Vancouver and Kelowna.
One man who didn’t identify himself, said, “It makes me want to cry when I see people lose their temper. These people that we shit on, these are human beings.”
Another speaker added to loud applause, “These are not throwaway people. They are somebody’s daughter, grandmother.”
Another speaker reinforced this message, to loud applause, “They are not ‘these people,' they’re us.”
One speaker who had been robbed by an addict brandishing a needle stated, “They don’t care about us, why should we care about them?”
The lack of a detox centre was mentioned by several speakers.
Many spoke about the homeless situation. One man suggested that Vernon needs more socialized housing, where residents pay a percentage of their income, and less free housing which creates no sense of responsibility. Others mentioned the fact that those on disability receive $1,200 a month while rents are at least $800.
The owner of a downtown business noted that the homeless are often bullied, harassed and stolen from. “I’m not a bleeding heart, I’m not cold either. Giving out needles hasn’t help in any way.”
Tying all the issues together was crime.
Robert said that everything got stolen and in one incident, he was struck on the head with a flashlight and received 10 stitches.
Many related the cost of crime, from hiring additional private security to stolen items, to the driving away of customers who fear going downtown. The manager of an apartment building for seniors said he incurred extra costs to cut trees and shrubs where people hid. Consideration is being made to gate the property.
Others wondered why street people are able to use stolen shopping carts and why existing bylaws were not being enforced.
Many speakers questioned why there were no representatives from the BC Ministry of Health, or Interior Health present and some noted the absence of MLA Eric Foster and MP Mel Arnold.
Gerard Joyal of The Bridge Youth and Family Services in Kelowna told the audience that there are plenty of resources, adding, “If you don’t like the results, change the system. Come up for air, take a breath and look around.”