Vernon council seeks more info on scathing homelessness letter

Clarity sought on homeless

Vernon councillors want one of the authors of a strongly worded letter urging more action on homelessness to appear before council.

The letter, signed by shelter and outreach operators in Vernon, Penticton, West Kelowna, Kelowna, Merritt and Kamloops, was sent on Nov. 4 to municipal councils, BC Housing and the Interior Health Authority.

Mayor Victor Cumming suggested the letter was a little broad and one of the authors should appear before council to talk specifically about the situation in Vernon “and suggest actions for the city.”

“We may be at a different stage of making some of these things (happen) that they’re calling municipal governments to do. We may be a bit further (along) than some of our neighbours,” Cumming said during Monday’s council meeting.

A 51-unit supportive housing building for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness was announced in June for Vernon. It will open in the spring and will be run by Turning Points Collaborative Society, which already operates subsidized homes and shelters in Vernon and elsewhere.

One of the letter’s authors is Randene Wejr, executive director of the Turning Points organization.

The letter explains how temporary winter shelters don’t fix the homelessness problem.

Interior Health is singled out for particularly strong criticism.

“Our shelters have become a place for hospitals to discharge people who are ill and need respite and health care. Our shelters have become a place for police to drop off people with mental illness with an expectation that our support workers should be able to manage dangerous and unpredictable behaviours. Our shelters have become a place where people languish because there has been no investment in programs, health, skills, wellness planning, and second stage housing,” the letter says.

“The health authority is often conspicuously absent. Interior Health is responsible for the health of citizens regardless of their housing status. Interior Health has passed much of that responsibility to shelter, outreach, and supportive housing operators.

“Finally, we beseech you as a health authority to stop discharging patients from hospital into our shelters when they are quite ill and non-ambulatory.”

Municipalities are urged to “reduce the barriers for the creation of diverse housing options.”

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