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Homelessness remains a challenge

Statistics from an October survey indicate that 144 homeless individuals were identified in a 24-hour period.
A survey last October identified 144 homeless people in Vernon.

Hundreds of people in Vernon don't have a roof over their head.

Statistics from an October survey indicate that 144 homeless individuals were identified in a 24-hour period.

"That number is pretty conservative. There are people who are difficult to count because they are couch surfing," said Barb Levesque, John Howard Society executive director.

"They often trade something for a place to sleep. For women, it may mean sexual sexual services, or for young men too."

There were fewer homeless camps, but more occupants.

"People are gathering together in communities. It may be safe in the beginning but it's not safer. Women are being prostituted out of the camps," said Levesque, adding that camps also have a form of governance.

"If the boss of the camp is predatory, it doesn't serve anyone there. Violence is often a hallmark when people join these camps."

Twenty-seven per cent of those survey were women and 73 per cent were men. Forty-eight per cent had grown up in Vernon or had family connections here.

A concern for Levesque is that 27 per cent of respondents had been in foster care when younger.

"They don't have the ability to manage their lives after exiting the foster care system," she said.

Twenty-one per cent identified as aboriginal or having indigenous ancestry.

The average age for sleeping outside was 39 for men and 40 for women, and 52 years for men and 51 years for women in shelters.

"There are many more senior men and women in our shelters," said Levesque.

John Howard Society is calling for increased income assistance rates and higher minimum wage, as well as extending support into early childhood for children in foster care.

There is also pressure on the federal government to proceed with its national housing strategy.

"This has to be a non-partisan issue. It's the right thing to do," said Juliette Cunningham, a Vernon councillor.

"I'm hopeful we'll make some meaningful headway on this."

A number of city departments co-operate with community agencies to ensure the homeless have access to services.

"In Vernon, we do a great job because of all of the partners work together," said Mayor Akbal Mund.