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City says new Vancouver park sheltering rules necessary, but some call them ‘inhumane’

Click to play video: 'Encampment community members react to new sheltering in park rules'
Encampment community members react to new sheltering in park rules
WATCH: The Vancouver Park Board voted on new restrictions on sheltering in parks, eliminating the use of building materials for semi-permanent structures and further limiting where tents can be set up. Grace Ke reports – Apr 9, 2024

New restrictions on where and how the homeless can shelter in Vancouver parks were necessary, the city’s park board says, but some of those experiencing homelessness are calling the changes a misfire.

Bylaw changes approved by the Vancouver Park Board Monday night ban sheltering in parks using any kind of structure other than collapsible tents and bans sheltering under trees or near bodies of water.

“This is one of the most difficult issues we face at the park board,” Park Commissioner Tom Digby told Global News on Tuesday.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Park Board votes on tightening up rules on encampments'
Vancouver Park Board votes on tightening up rules on encampments

Digby said the board knows the issue involves one of the city’s most vulnerable communities, but that clearer rules were necessary to prevent the creation of new entrenched homeless camps.

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He pointed to the recent cleanup initiative at the city’s only sanctioned homeless encampment as an example of why the stiffer rules are necessary.

“There’s nothing civil about the situation that was there. There were rats, there were needles, there were feces, I  mean trenches with feces open.”

According to the city, crews removed more than 90,000 kilograms of debris, 20 propane tanks and six generators from the site during the cleanup.

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But the bylaw changes aren’t going over well with some in the city’s homeless community.

Click to play video: 'Bylaw amendments affecting people sheltering in parks'
Bylaw amendments affecting people sheltering in parks

“It’s challenging for them, I see that, but we need to work together instead of closing off things,” former CRAB Park resident Andrew Hirschpold told Global News.

“I find them inhumane, these decisions. I find them inconsiderate.”

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Sacha Christiano, who is one of 16 people registered to continue sheltering in the sanctioned area of CRAB Park, said many feel that the city simply doesn’t listen to them.

“It’s presumptuous of them to think they can ask our advice and have us fill out things, suggestions we would like to be more accommodating to our needs as well,  and then disregard them,” he said.

“They give us tents that are more flammable … than plywood and stuff,” he added, describing the amount of space residents have been allocated as a “glorified Harry Potter closet.”

Monday’s park board vote also directed city staff to reach out to the province to create a working group focused on park encampments.

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said he had not received any formal requests, but that the province has been active in working with the city both on CRAB Park and on housing and homelessness in general.

Click to play video: 'Questions about CRAB Park cleanup'
Questions about CRAB Park cleanup

“If you look at Crab Park, we’ve had, at points, close to a hundred people there. We’ve been working and offering people shelter non-stop, even right now we are on the ground offering people shelters,” he said.

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“Some people are taking those opportunities. That’s why you’re seeing the numbers. Much smaller than what we’ve seen in the past. And we continue to urge people to come indoors because we’re working hard to create spaces available for them.”

The province says 23 people who had been sheltering in CRAB Park have been moved into housing since 2022: four people this year, eight people in 2023 and 11 people in 2022. Once the final 16 people currently sheltering there are placed in housing, the designated area will be closed.

The changes to Vancouver’s bylaw approved Monday will also the general manager or parks to inspect tents in designated shelter areas with 24-hour notice to prevent the storage of dangerous goods, and a ban on sheltering at Queen Elizabeth Park, VanDusen Gardens, or within 25 metres of playgrounds, schools and child-care facilities.

Under the city’s updated bylaws, with the exception of the designated area in CRAB Park, sheltering is only permitted in public parks overnight and tents must be taken down by 7 a.m. the following morning.

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