British Columbia

Vancouver Park Board votes in favour of allowing overnight camping in parks

The revision to the Parks Control Bylaw aligns with a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that recognizes the constitutional right for a person to seek refuge in public spaces like parks when adequate shelter is not available, the Park Board said in a tweet.

Vote to amend Parks Control Bylaw narrowly passes 4-3

The homeless camp in Strathcona Park in Vancouver on July 10. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The Vancouver Park Board has voted to amend a bylaw to allow people to camp overnight in city parks.

The bylaw vote passed 4-3 early early Wednesday morning, after hours of discussion and input from the public spanned two days.

The revision to the Parks Control Bylaw aligns with a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that recognizes the constitutional right for a person to seek refuge in public spaces like parks when adequate shelter is not available, the Park Board said in a tweet.

According to a staff report, a rising number of people have been seeking temporary shelter in parks and public spaces due to the ongoing homelessness crisis in Vancouver, affecting public access to park space and amenities.

Recently, a homeless encampment has grown in Vancouver's Strathcona Park after Oppenheimer Park was cleared in May.

The amended bylaw allows people to erect temporary overnight shelters in some Vancouver parks and requires them to be taken down by 7 a.m. the next morning. 

Temporary shelters must be contained in a three-metre by three-meter area and must be at least 25 metres from a playground or school. 

'Status quo of displacement'

Commissioner Camil Dumont, who voted for the amended bylaw, said he was "very troubled" with the "status quo of displacement."

"[Homeless people] aren't sanctioned to exist in physical form in very many places in the community. Until we shift that, all we're doing is continuing a story of displacement," Dumont said.

"I'm tired and I'm frustrated with the amount of abuse we've received as a group from different corners, but I do understand the distinction between recreation and survival."

Commissioner Stuart MacKinnon said his vote in favour came down to precedent.

"For me, we didn't really have a choice. We need to have our bylaws in compliance with the courts," he said. 

Commissioner John Coupar, who voted against the amended bylaw, said he believes this opens the door to more overnight camping in parks, something he says residents are concerned about. 

"We want to be compassionate … but there comes a point where we have to say, we want to look after making sure families and kids are safe in our parks. And allowing overnight camping in parks, I just can't support it," he said.

Providing housing is a mandate for other levels of government, not the park board, he added. 

With 14 full-time park rangers to manage 240 parks, Coupar said there's very little chance of enforcing this bylaw. 

"We need to keep our parks safe and clean for everybody," he said. 

"This probably goes too far, in my opinion, and I think a lot of people will be quite shocked by it."

'Much bigger problem at play here'

Katie Lewis, vice-president of the Strathcona Residents Association, said the vote that followed almost 90 speakers was a "nail biter."

Lewis said she does not feel the bylaw amendment will change anything about the current encampment in Strathcona Park, but hopes that it prevents other large encampments from developing.

However, other levels of government need to do more to prevent homelessness in the first place, she said. 

"My hope is that this will help prompt the province and the feds and other levels of government to actually come to the table and start talking about the broader issue of homelessness and what they can do. I see it as one tiny step," she said.

"There is a much bigger problem at play here, and I'm very hopeful that we can come to the table and find some other solutions and ideas for people that are living in the camp right now."

Chrissy Brett, a camp liaison now stationed at the encampment in Strathcona Park, said she was disappointed but not surprised by the vote. Campers were not adequately consulted on amendments to the bylaw, she said.

Asked whether the tents will come down at 7 a.m. each day, Brett said that remains to be seen.

"This is an Indigenous-led camp ... people will need to do what they need to do and they will make those choices," she said.

"I think there's always been power in numbers."

With files from Joel Ballard

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