The issues haven’t changed. The frequency of the issues has.
Larry Fisher of Vernon’s Fisher’s Home Hardware, located at the same location in downtown Vernon on Coldstream Avenue and 33rd Street for 84 years, attended a meeting Feb. 6 at Vernon’s Schubert Centre with members of the downtown business community, service providers, and the Social Planning Council of North Okanagan.
They were there for a discussion session facilitated by Urban Matters, a consulting firm that specializes in supporting communities with innovations to address complex social issues.
The two-hour meeting was to focus on issues and concerns related to the impacts of homelessness within Vernon’s Business Improvement Area (BIA).
Fisher left after the first hour.
“When they did the musical chair thing (roundtable discussion), it was time to leave,” said Fisher. “I didn’t think too much was said or done, and it’s the same old deal. These meetings have the same old results.
“A lot of stuff mentioned has been talked about many times before. It’s beating the same old bush.”
Fisher’s Hardware, explained Fisher, is at ground zero.
Their property adjoins the Gateway Shelter and the former Enlighten Salon, which has been turned into another shelter facility. Unlike other businesses that have a storefront on a city sidewalk – and Fisher makes it clear he’s not diminishing their problems – Fisher’s Hardware has adjoining property, paid parking behind the store, a compound area, and back of the store.
Staff constantly deal with trespassers through their property, he said. They remove garbage of all types, including shopping carts, on a daily basis. They collect spent needles, drug-related paraphernalia and condoms. The sex and drug trade business, said Fisher, is right at hand. They clean up human feces.
They deal with shoplifting as a result of the interaction of the street-entrenched people on their property, travelling to and fro, he said. There’s outside theft, loitering, graffiti, vandalism, sleeping in entrances, concern by fearful shoppers, said Fisher, who do not like the presence of some of the street people and feel intimidated by them. There’s the loss of paid parking from people out behind the store that don’t want to park there anymore because “there’s always somebody pooled around their cars.”
“It’s the whole gauntlet,” said Fisher, who said he did not speak at the meeting, and thought the meeting was handled “differently.”
“The issues at hand seemed to be smokescreened by the social system,” he said. “Their approach to the whole thing was like ‘what can we do for the homeless,’ never mind what can we do for the business people and the community that’s encroached by them.”
Vernon Coun. Scott Anderson reported to council Monday that there was a misconception in the public, social media and mainstream media about what the meeting at the Schubert Centre was about.
“It’s not about complex social problems, it’s not about homelessness, it’s not about crime and not about vagrancy,” said Anderson. “It’s about all of those and some of those but in a very narrow focus, and the focus is, and has been, all the way from the (city-mandated Activate Safety) task force on, the issue has always been the impact of some members of the street-entrenched population on businesses. That’s what it’s about.”
Urban Matters said they would compile their pages of notes gathered from the two-hour meeting and report to Vernon council.
“It’s disappointing,” said Fisher of the meeting. “Everyone goes there anticipating it’s going to be a day of action. Everybody knows what the issues are, the issues are the same, they’re all listed on those pieces of paper, but they’re increasing.
“Each meeting you go to it’s the same issue with an increasing frequency to the problem.”