More shelter beds are on the way to help members of the Vernon community currently sleeping rough; however, as the temperature drops, the need for a warm place to stay becomes greater.
According to the most recent homeless count, there are 161 people living outside or in shelters in Vernon — up from 153 in 2017.
Marty and Twittlebug have been sleeping rough in Vernon for a number of years. They have built a small camp in a secluded area outside of downtown and keep to themselves.
Their camp is kept clean.
They set up their camp every afternoon and tear down their camp every morning.
Instead of toting their possessions around with them, they wrap their belongings — tent, mattress, blankets — in a tarp and stash it away for when the time comes to set it all up again.
Despite their efforts to keep their area clean and out of sight, they have been told by bylaw they must now take their items with them when they leave their camp.
“Where we are here, we aren’t hurting anybody. We are not bothering anybody. We are clean and quiet,” says a frustrated Marty as he cleans up camp.
“Why should I have to take this stuff and tote it around town all day? I can’t bring myself to push a cart. That is not anything against anybody who does, it is just a preference of mine.”
Marty and his partner, Twittlebug invited Castanet to their camp to share with the community what it is like to sleep rough in Vernon.
“The reason you see so many people pushing carts with a bunch of stuff is because they are not allowed to leave it anywhere,” explains Marty.
While Upper Room Mission does have storage lockers for the homeless community to use, there is a waitlist. In fact, the demand has been so great of late, URM opened up a portion of their C-Can to store some items for those in need.
It takes Marty and Twittlebug roughly an hour to set up camp every night.
“Whether is it raining or not, they expect us to take our camp down,” Marty explains. “If it’s raining, no matter how quick you are or how good your system is, you get wet. Your bedding gets wet. It is wet the next time you pull it out and then you get sick.”
The lack of affordable housing has been routinely identified as one of the leading contributors of homelessness across the province.
Marty who is a trained truck driver has been unable to get his license renewed or find work, and his partner, Twittlebug has worked as a waitress but is unable to find a job in Vernon.
Marty says they live off his pension and government assistance, which works out to be $950 a month. They say their struggle is the same struggle shared by many British Columbians, they can’t afford rent.
“Getting inside is a starting point. We are both capable of working. It is very hard to find a job when you have to live out in the bush,” says Marty. “Once you get a home, of any kind inside, you can start from there. You can start looking for work or find a job because out here you can’t do it.”
There is potentially good news for Marty and Twittlebug. They are both on the list for a space in a new BC Housing, 40-bed, temporary shelter on 33 Street in downtown Vernon.
The shelter, which will be called Compass and will be run by Turning Points Collaborative, the operator of the Gateway shelter, will provide a space for people who are in line to go into housing.
People staying at Compass will have access to on-site support, including life-skills training and employment assistance, in addition to connection and referral to community services and support groups to help them achieve and maintain housing stability.
“I want people to hear our story,” says Marty. “They picture homeless people as bums and lazy. We are not… I’m not looking for help or any kind of handouts. I just want people to know our story and what we go through on a daily basis.”