Town staff to look into homeless and Vince

By on November 7, 2017

Vince Sam waves to spectators as he cleans up after the horses in last July’s Cherry Fiesta parade. (Richard McGuire file photo)

A discussion at Town of Osoyoos council on Monday on how to assist Osoyoos’ best-known homeless resident, Vince Sam, has led council to entering into a more detailed discussion on addressing the overall issue of homelessness in our community.

Town council voted Monday to direct senior staff to prepare a report that will detail issues surrounding homelessness in Osoyoos.

Responding to a request by Brenda Dorosz, a founder of the Osoyoos Gift Cupboard, who asked council to support a request to approve a local public place where Sam can sleep and place his possession.

After a lengthy discussion, council voted in favour of a motion by Coun. C.J. Rhodes to prepare a report relating to homelessness in Osoyoos and what council and the community could do to help.

“Maybe there is a bigger picture that we need to address and the homeless situation can be part of our future planning,” said Rhodes.

The report will also detail possible locations to assist Vince and the Town’s legal responsibilities should council select a site that would assist him.

“We are searching for an appropriate spot for Vince to set up a tent and tarp so his things don’t get stolen,” said Dorosz in a prepared statement to council. “We know the issues he faces and we have enough good people here willing to help Vince keep his place clean and free from garbage.

“What we ask of you is a spot on town land that this could happen, so his things do not get scooped up and tossed in the garbage. A place where everyone knows, so, we as a community, can care for our own.

“It is not our intent to set a precedent with other homeless people here in town. We want to ensure that Vince has a place that is his and that his stuff will perhaps not get stolen. All we ask is a small piece of ground for Vince to put up a tent and tarp, store his belongings and be safe.”

Vince is beloved by so many people in and around Osoyoos population and there is a small army of volunteers more than willing to assist him once he finds a permanent outdoor location, said Dorosz.

“We know it’s a big ask,” she said.

Vince wants to continue living outdoors and would prefer to place his tent and belongings in an area near Peanut Pond, behind Smitty’s Family Restaurant, said Dorosz.

The ownership and staff at Smitty’s have a special bond with Vince and have been feeding him at least one meal per day for a long time and he feels at home in this area, she said.

The Osoyoos Baptist Church generously offered a place for Vince, but he has serious mobility and health issues and would prefer to remain in the downtown area, she said.

Mayor Sue McKortoff said it’s heartening to know so many local residents have helped Vince through the years and want to continue helping him.

“I’ve known Vince since I taught him in my Grade 1 class,” said McKortoff. “I think the community looks after him extremely well.”

The Town does have legal obligations and they must be considered in trying to assist Vince find a permanent location to pitch his tent and store his possessions, she said.

Dorosz said she personally invited Vince to stay on property her family owns on the East Bench of town, but “it’s too far from town.”

Coun. Jim King said council does have to consider the fact that assisting Vince might lead to other homeless people demanding the same assistance.

What you don’t want to see is a group of homeless people forming a “tent city”, he said.

Rhodes said he “has a great deal of empathy” for homeless people in general and Vince specifically, adding his family has personally helped him with a place to sleep on numerous occasions.

The Town has to exercise caution as allowing Vince to use public land for his tent and possessions could lead to legal and liability issues.

“We have to be careful of where it is and how it is set up,” he said. “I think everybody wants to do something to help. Where are we going to do that. That’s the question that needs to be answered.”

Dorosz agreed, adding she didn’t expect council to come up with an immediate response to her request.

“I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight,” she said. “We just want to be part of the conversation moving forward.”

Chief administrative officer Barry Romanko said council does have to consider the municipality’s legal responsibilities in cases like this.

“When a municipality moves into areas like this, the public expectation and expectations of service change,” he explained. “Yes, being empathetic is something we really want to do as a community, but we have responsibilities as a municipality relative to location, community impacts and ramifications down the road.”

Coun. Mike Campol said it’s a testament to the generosity of this community that so many want to help Vince.

“Vince is an anomaly,” he said. “He doesn’t ask for anything and he’s very pleasant. He’s just a friendly man.”

Council will discuss the staff report about homelessness and Vince’s living situation at its next meeting on Nov. 20.

KEITH LACEY

Osoyoos Times

 

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