BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Park the perceptions

Richard Rolke looks at concerns about affordable housing in downtown Vernon

No sooner was it announced that downtown Vernon’s Journey Inn was being transformed into affordable housing and some residents took to the web.

In a nutshell, the consensus appeared to be that the B.C. Housing acquisition would become nothing but a drug house or a gathering place for those who challenge society standards.

“We expected people may have concerns because it’s something new. There’s the fear of the unknown,” said Annette Sharkey, with the Social Planning Council.

John Howard Society will operate the 38 suites, and executive director Barb Levesque has experienced similar speculation when her group has pushed ahead with other housing initiatives.

“I understand people have concerns and it’s not unreasonable but just wait and watch,” she said.

“The Journey Inn project is based on a project in Penticton and it’s been running for five years. It’s an amazing place.”

Levesque is quite clear about who will not be living at the Journey Inn.

“People from the Green Valley will not be transferred over,” she said of the motel that was the subject of much community and police scrutiny and where tenants have been evicted.

John Howard will screen those low-income individuals moving into the Journey Inn.

“It could be a single person working 40 hours a week on minimum wage,” said Levesque.

They may be a senior or on a disability benefit.

“We will be taking references from every social agency in town. They could be new Canadians or someone whose marriage broke up and they are starting over again. It could be someone with a brain injury,” said Levesque.

Not everyone will make the cut and get a room.

“They have to be interested in contributing to a safe environment — ‘I’m not going to steal my neighbour’s bike,’” said Levesque.

“There will be an expectation that they contribute as a good neighbour and good tenant.”

The goal is to establish an environment where people care for each other.

“This won’t be an apartment building where people never meet their neighbours. There will be a community kitchen and a common space outdoors. There will be social events,” said Levesque.

It would be easy to link the Journey Inn model with what’s been happening a few blocks away at the Green Valley Motel, but they are two separate issues. One has to do with the crushing impact of the high cost of living on people trying to make ends meet, while the other is more complex because of substance abuse, crime and other factors.

“People should be no more afraid of this (Journey Inn) than any other apartment building. They have to dispel the idea that this will be the Green Valley,” said Levesque.

The John Howard Society has reached out to neighbours when it has previously opened the Gateway Shelter and Bill’s Place as a way of addressing concerns, whether real or perceived.

“It has an excellent track record in the community,” said Sharkey.

The bottom line is that the individuals moving into the Journey Inn aren’t much different than the rest of us. In fact, none of us should be so arrogant to think that our lives couldn’t follow the same path if we lost our job, were suddenly disabled or faced marriage loss or mental health challenges.

“The idea is to give them dignity and a place to call home and that’s what we all want,” said Levesque.


Vernon Morning Star