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Bylaw change could legalize homeless camping in Vancouver parks

Vancouver Park Board consider overnight camping in parks
Vancouver Park Board consider overnight camping in parks

The Vancouver Park Board will meet on Monday to consider changing its bylaws to allow overnight camping by homeless people.

If approved, the new bylaw would limit both where and how long a person could set a shelter up in a Vancouver park.

The city’s bylaws currently forbid overnight camping, but have not been enforced due to a pair of B.C. Supreme Court rulings that have affirmed people without shelter have a constitutional right to put up tents on public property.

Read more: Homeless camp at Vancouver’s Strathcona Park prompts new call for sanctioned tent city

A report to the park board says the bylaw change seeks to recognize that right, while protecting the city’s parks for other users.

Board staff say there has been a 625 per cent increase in case volume for park rangers between 2015 and 2019, with close to 50 per cent of cases last year relating to temporary structures.

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Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood call for action on growing homeless crisis
Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood call for action on growing homeless crisis

“Although encampments may provide a sense of safety and community for those that live within them, they often end up disrupting and displacing much-needed community services and access to green space, and can negatively impact the health and safety of neighbourhood businesses and residents when illicit activities become established within and around the encampment,” states the report.

READ MORE: Should Vancouver emulate San Diego’s response to the crisis of homelessness?

The debate comes as the city grapples with its latest homeless encampment in Strathcona Park, following high-profile camps near CRAB Park and in Oppenheimer Park.

Under the proposal, overnight camping by the homeless would be limited from dusk to 8 a.m. the following morning.

Temporary shelters would be banned in a number of specific areas, including within 25 metres of playgrounds and schools, on beaches, trails, natural areas, sports facilities, off-leash dog parks and flower beds.

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CRAB Park tent city removed
CRAB Park tent city removed

Fires, stoves and candles would also be banned, and campers would be limited to a three-by-three metre space.

The report says time limits are needed to prevent the accumulation of human waste and long-term damage to park areas.

READ MORE: Vancouver police arrest 46 people for refusing to leave CRAB Park tent city

The restrictions on where structures can be set up are needed to protect children from needles and debris, protect sensitive environments and gardens and reduce the risk of fire and injury, it states.

Strathcona Park camp spokesperson Chrissy Brett called the proposal “inhumane,” and said if the bylaw passed campers wouldn’t adhere to it.

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“Canada has acknowledged the right to housing, and even if it’s just your tent, you don’t have that right from just 7 p.m. to 8 a.m.,” she said.

Oppenheimer Park likely won’t reopen for weeks after decampment
Oppenheimer Park likely won’t reopen for weeks after decampment

“Bylaws like this — it’s ensuring thousands and thousands of people across Vancouver are being told they don’t have a right to exist for, what, 13 hours a day?”

Brett said she wants to see the provincial and federal governments give up land to create “Canadian-style refugee camps” and urban reserves.

That concept is not so far from what has been proposed by a coalition of businesses and residents in the Strathcona area, who last month called for the city and province to set aside land for a sanctioned tent city.

The group said repeatedly rousting homeless people from one camp to the next does nothing to solve the housing issue, while moving the social problems attached to the camps from neighbourhood to neighbourhood.

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Homeless encampment have been a continuous feature of Vancouver for years. Prior to the most recent Oppenheimer Park camp, homeless people had been living in a series of tent cities on Powell StreetMain StreetEast Hastings, and before that, Oppenheimer Park once again.

The park board will consider the change Monday, July 13.