Wednesday, June 22, 2016
We're safe, come visit
by Kate Bouey - CASTANET Jun 22, 2016 / 12:41 pm
The Downtown Vernon Association is urging residents to shop local and shop downtown, stressing it is safe to be on the city's main street. The message follows an estimated 40 recent telephone calls to the DVA, mainly complaints from businesses, after a newspaper report quoting one merchant who said nothing was being done about the panhandlers in the downtown core, according to Lara Konkin, the DVA's executive director. “There has been a number of initiatives that have taken place. We've increased the bylaw presence by two individuals, the summer is when we have the (safety ambassador) patrols on bicycle,” said Mary-Jo O'Keefe, past president of the Downtown Vernon Association and a member of the board. The RCMP also have a Downtown Enforcement Unit that also walks the streets. O'Keefe said the “bigger presence” of authority figures in the downtown does make people feel more secure. “I don't think the downtown has ever been unsafe,” said O'Keefe. “I work downtown, I walk to the bank. “Yes, you do get asked by panhandlers occasionally, but I haven't had any aggression from those panhandlers.” O'Keefe urges people to use the downtown. “People are coming from Kelowna to shop in our downtown and they're not afraid....We just have tremendous services, tremendous retail here and people should be celebrating that. They shouldn't be focussing on the fact that, yes, we have some panhandlers. So does every urban core in North America.” O'Keefe did not appear convinced by city council's plan to have kindness meters installed in the downtown to allow shoppers to put money in them rather than hand change to panhandlers. However, she lauded efforts to get the word out to the less fortunate about services available to them to get them off the streets.