British Columbia

Langley's proposed homeless camp ban pits advocates against neighbours

The City of Langley plans on banning people from setting up temporary shelters at one of its parks.

'We've had complaints about that area and were asked by our citizens to do something about it.'

Michael Herilstad, with his pet pigeon Quaser, and Janis Sanders are pictured outside the Friends Langley Vineyard outreach centre in Langley. The City of Langley plans on banning people from setting up temporary shelters at Rotary Centennial Park, making it the second park with such a ban. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The City of Langley, B.C., plans on banning people from setting up temporary shelters at one of its parks.

The Rotary Centennial Park is a hot spot for homeless people to spend the night, according to community members and the city. 

The city has already banned overnight camping at Douglas Park. The proposal to add Rotary to the list goes for its fourth reading at the next council meeting June 24. 

Residents in the park's neighbourhood say the ban is a good idea. 

But Leith White, pastor at Friends Langley Vineyard church, says the city should not restrict the homeless from spending the night.

Pastor Leith White speaks with a woman outside of the FLV outreach centre. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"They use that park as a place of temporary shelter," White told Laura Lynch, guest host of The Early Edition.

Paul Wynn, who often sleeps at Rotary Centennial Park in Langley, says the park is close to the Salvation Army Gateway of Hope homeless shelter. When there is no space there, some homeless people head to the park for the evening. 

"There is way more people than they can handle. It's just too many of us and some of us like being outside," Wynn said.

Paul Wynn, who is currently homeless, is pictured in Langley. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The city says the park is too close to secluded high density housing, and many of those families bring their children to the park to play. There are concerns they're being exposed to drug use and needles.

"We've had complaints about that area and were asked by our citizens to do something about it. So we're responding to their needs," said Mayor Val van den Broek.

Drug use and theft

Doreen Mercer, whose house faces the Rotary park, says the majority of overnight campers use drugs and leave their paraphernalia and cardboard boxes behind. She says they pose a risk to residents.

"My husband uses the park daily. He's blind and he goes in there and does rounds for walking.... And some woman had passed out the middle of the sidewalk and almost tripped him up and made him fall," Mercer said. 

A City of Langley parks sign is pictured at Rotary Centennial Park. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Van den Broek says safety is of special concern at Rotary because the park has a play area for children. She said there are also Syrian refugee children in the neighbourhood who may be affected by seeing drug use and paraphernalia in the park. 

"We're just trying to find a happy medium for everybody in the community," said van den Broek. 

New homeless facility

Francis Cheung, chief administrative officer for the city, says the Rotary park has had a great deal of vandalism recently, specifically at the bathrooms. 

"Our concern has been that if we don't try to manage that … there would be an entrenched homeless camp there," said Cheung.

"We're not saying you can't move to another park for overnight camping. We're restricting this park because we have found this to be a hot spot for the neighborhood."

The township of Langley will be opening a new supportive housing unit by August. The mayor says this will help with overcrowding concerns at Gateway of Hope, as well as concerns over the Rotary camping ban.

Cheung says the Langley will continue to work with different level governments and neighbouring communities to find other solutions for the homeless population. 

Listen to The Early Edition interview here:

Guest host Laura Lynch speaks with pastor Leith White and Doreen Mercer about the a camp ban in Rotary Centennial Park. 9:20

With files from The Early Edition and Tina Lovgreen

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