Vernon has a new team going to bat for the city’s homeless population.
Introducing the Vernon Homeless Outreach Team, a group of eight locals who formerly worked with HOPE Outreach – a late-night outreach for homeless and exploited women in the downtown cores of Kelowna and Vernon.
The group registered as a non-profit society after splitting off from HOPE about a year ago, when they decided it was too difficult to turn down the men who ask for help on their night time walks.
“HOPE is awesome, but we just felt that we needed to service the men too. They’re cold and hungry just like the women are,” said Outreach Team member Jeanne Arcand.
Arcand says they see about 50 people every night on their circuit around the Gateway Homeless Shelter and the People Place downtown, where they hand out food, water, clothes and hygiene products. The group has also administered naloxone – a life preserving antidote to opioid overdoses – mutliple times already.
“At first we just did it on our own, supplied by our own friends and family. We did a couple Facebook fundraisers but now we’ve actually formed our own society, so we’re going to start looking for fundraising and grants and stuff like that to help,” Arcand said.
The outreach team will make its first formal public appearance on Wednesday, Aug. 28 at the International Overdose Awareness Day event hosted by Upper Room Mission. There, they’ll be one of dozens of groups with information booths, spreading awareness of the resources that are available in the community.
About a month ago, the group started noticing new – and rougher – faces on the streets.
“Every time we go out there’s more people who we haven’t seen before,” Arcand said. “Every day you hear people who have had their bikes and their tools stolen and their vehicles broken into. That’s all part of it unfortunately.
“I was born and raised in Vernon, so to me this is just not where I grew up.”
Meanwhile, the City of Vernon is working on guidelines for new emergency shelters and overdose prevention sites. Council is preparing to adjust a zoning bylaw to include more regulations on these types of structures. The added requirements will include screened outdoor storage, setbacks to reduce congregation on or near sidewalks, designated on-site smoking areas and exterior lighting. Plans are also in the works for a new community consultation process for any new shelters and overdose prevention sites, according the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce.
Until those developments come to pass, the Vernon Homeless Outreach Team will have its work cut out for it. Arcand explains that dealing with the ongoing opioid crisis is relatively new territory for the group.
“We were not familiar with the drug scene. We are now obviously, but in the beginning I think we were very naive and we’ve lost a few people who we’ve been quite close to and that’s been tough,” she said.
“But we’re doing what we can. We all love it, and we try our best to help the people who are really struggling.”