A once tranquil Vernon park that has since morphed into “skid row” has left neighbours living in fear, feeling like prisoners in their own home.
The 25th Avenue Linear Park in recent weeks has become home to the homeless.
Shopping carts heaped with items, tents and tarps tied to trees, people lying lifeless on the grass, garbage and drug paraphernalia strewn about. On top of this “eyesore” next to the People Place, neighbours to the latest homeless camp say what happens, particularly when night falls, is often unimaginable.
“We’ve seen a lot of stuff the last six weeks,” said Irene Carter, speaking out for a family member who lives in the area and fears for her safety.
Ladies of the night, daytime drug use in front of children, fighting and theft are a sampling of daily activities in the area.
“There are some who get themselves really spun out and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Neighbour Don (who also feared being named and possible backlash) adds: “It’s really, really frustrating.”
Don won’t walk down the Linear Park pathway anymore out of fear, but his frustration is rising as some of these individuals continue to disrespect the area.
“They were crapping by my door (of vehicle) and had a roll of toilet paper sitting on my wheel.
“These people aren’t homeless because they’ve been forced on the street,” said Don, adding it’s due to lifestyle choices. He too is on disability and says you are allowed to earn a certain amount while collecting assistance, and that, he says, is the difference between him and those in Linear Park.
“Every person I talk to feels the same as I do…the homeless are abusing them.”
But James Auger lives in a nearby apartment and says these people can’t afford the $1,000 a month rent that most units cost.
“The rent in Vernon is off the charts,” said Auger. “There’s a lot of working people that are one or two pay cheques from falling off the edge.”
Meanwhile 34-year-old Teresa Williams, who has been staying at the camp for the past five nights, says not everyone fits the stereotypical description that is being given to them.
“There’s always one bad apple. Yes there’s some people who don’t know how to control themselves,” said the former Clarence Fulton student who was living in an RV with her husband on Old Kamloops Road until it had to be moved and is desperate to find a place to move it but most campsites say it’s too old, or won’t let her stay because she is on income assistance.
Despite having a diploma in business, Williams lacks work experience, which she says is why no one will hire her. Having grown up with a family on income assistance her whole life, she doesn’t know any different, and tears swell in her eyes as she explains how she can’t even remember what it’s like to have a home.
“I’ve been dealing with this on and off for 15 years,” said Williams, who now has a multitude of health problems and battles a drug addiction.
Williams estimates she is one of between a dozen and a half to two dozen people who are sleeping in Linear Park.
“That’s not including those on the edge of Polson Park, behind London Drugs or other places. They are scattered throughout Vernon.”
And like her, a lot of them are locals, Williams says, despite what some people assume.
Carter and Williams actually know each other from years past, as the now homeless woman has lived in Vernon for 18 years.
And they both agree that something needs to be done.
“There’s not enough beds in the shelter,” said Williams. “The transition house is usually full due to domestic violence, they opened up a mat program but that only has 10 beds so what do you do when it’s all full?”
Williams says there have been talks about a safe injection site, but many in the community don’t want it. She says it’s a great idea to move the problem out from the open, and away from young, innocent eyes.
“There’s enough abandoned buildings in Vernon, just use one of those.
“If the city got together with us we could all come together and find a solution.”
Carter says there is an urgent need to at least find more beds, as temperatures are now dropping below freezing at night.
“They need to do it soon because it’s starting to get cold.”
In the meantime, Vernon resident Alan McMahon says portable outhouses at least need to be provided.
“Let’s see if we can’t start treating them like human beings,” said McMahon.
Williams agrees and thanks those that have opened their hearts to those shivering in the park.
“We’ve actually had people bring down food, clothes.”