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Vernon group anticipates higher homeless numbers

Social Planning Council North Okanagan waits patiently for data from provincial count in April
Vernon took part in the second provincial homeless count, conducted in April. Results are expected in July or August. (Morning Star - file photo)

If Annette Sharkey had her wish, the data on Vernon’s homeless would be in her hands already.

But like the rest of the province, the executive director of the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan must be patient.

Sharkey delivered her quarterly report to Vernon council Monday, June 12, highlighting the provincial homeless count that Vernon took part in on April 27.

“We should receive the initial date in July or August. I wish I’d had them on April 28,” said Sharkey. “We’re all very anxious for these numbers, but the province releases the results to all communities at the same time with the detailed information that comes out of the survey.”

The homeless counts give important baseline information on the estimated number, key demographic and service provision needs of people experiencing homelessness.

While the Social Planning Council coordinated the local count, the hard work, said Sharkey, was done by staff and peers from the Turning Points Collaborative Society, Downtown Mental Health and Substance Use, Archway Society for Domestic Peach, Okanagan Regional Library and the Upper Room Mission, who assisted with the surveys.

The Specialized Bylaw Team provided maps and routes for the outreach squads.

It’s the second time Vernon has taken part in the provincial homeless count.

The first was in May 2021 where 224 people were found to be sleeping either in a local shelter or in public places outside. Sharkey told council she anticipates the 2023 numbers will be higher.

“Communities across B.C. have noted increases in numbers of unhoused people due to the severity of the (provincial) housing crisis,” she said. “If our numbers are higher, it won’t be a surprise.”

The City of Vernon successfully applied for the second round of the Strengthening Communities Program and received $312,500 to support the municipality’s efforts to address homelessness.

The main item in the contract is a pilot project called the Homelessness Crisis Intervention Team (HCIT)), designed to support programs and First Responders if they require de-escalation assistance with a client.

“The HCIT has worked with 275 different individuals since it began in October 2022, and currently have active files for approximately 135 people,” said Sharkey.

HCIT operates seven days per week from 1 – 9 p.m., with two staff available for emergency outreach during operating hours.

“They receive anywhere between six to 36 calls/interactions per shift, and have worked closely with the Specialized Bylaw Team and service providers such as the library, the Upper Room Mission and Interior Health,” said Sharkey. “Evaluation is underway to determine the impact of the program.”

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Roger Knox

About the Author: Roger Knox

I am a journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. I started my career in radio and have spent the last 21 years working with Black Press Media.
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