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Increasing number of Vernon seniors, families, Indigenous homeless

15 families living in motels and that includes 17 children
Homelessness is a growing concern, affecting families, seniors and Indigenous people. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

Among the increasing number of people struggling to make ends meet and ending up living on the streets, are seniors, families and Indigenous people.

B.C. Housing’s 2023 Vernon homeless count revealed a nearly 25 per cent increase from 2021.

The point-in-time count on April 27-28 found 279 people were living rough. That’s up from 224.

“Every community saw an increase in their numbers, sometimes doubling their numbers,” said Annette Sharkey, executive director of the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan.

And that number is only those who are found, and those who agree to take the survey.

“They have the choice to take part in the survey or not, even though we physically see them, we don’t count them unless they take part in the survey,” explains Sharkey.

Calling the numbers “bleak,” Coun. Kari Gares adds: “They are probably much higher than what we’ve had to grasp in this point of time.”

The count, which includes those living in the shelter and those unsheltered, is seeing more classifications of people.

“There is an increase in the number of seniors and this coincides with what we are hearing,” said Sharkey.

According to Turning Points Collaborative Society statistics, there are 15 families living in motels and that includes 17 children.

“The trend continues currently with more and more families impacted by the housing crisis,” said Sharkey of a lack of affordable rents in the community. “That wasn’t the case even five years ago.”

Meanwhile over 40 per cent of people unhoused in Vernon identified as Indigenous, compared to only seven per cent of the population.

“Eighty per cent reported having lived or generational experience with residential schools,” said Sharkey.

The Social Planning Council operates a Homelessness Crisis Intervention Team which has served 342 clients between October 2022 and July 2023.

The team helped 42 secure supportive housing, 21 secure independent housing and three secure temporary housing.

Another 17 left the community and, sadly, seven died. Sharkey said the deaths are largely due to the toxic drug supply.

While some come and go, Sharkey said the majority have ties to the community.

“Homelessness is a home grown problem and not just a transfer from the larger centres, as often thought.”

Gares thanked Sharkey for her insights and added: “I look forward to the day you are able to bring to us a more positive picture of what is happening.”

READ MORE: ‘I thought it was going to get better, not worse’: Vernon Homeless Memorial

READ MORE: Vernon homeless number increases

Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

Vernon has always been my home, and I've been working at The Morning Star since 2004.
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