British Columbia

Vancouver park board staff drafts rules for overnight homeless camping in city parks

Vancouver Park Board staff are proposing bylaw changes that would allow homeless people to camp overnight in city parks.

Staff propose several bylaw amendments to conform with B.C. Supreme Court ruling

Some neighbours of Strathcona Park say they support limiting camping in parks to overnight hours. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Vancouver Park Board staff have drafted proposed bylaw changes that would allow homeless people to camp overnight in city parks. 

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, impacting public access to park space and amenities.

In July 2019, staff say they were directed to report back on options to manage camping and encampments in parks.

Staff is now recommending several amendments to sections of the Parks Control Bylaw, which restrict temporary shelter in parks.

Ban on shelters unconstitutional

The report cites a 2009 B.C. Supreme Court ruling which established that preventing a homeless person from putting up a tent for overnight shelter breaches their constitutional rights. As such, staff say several park board bylaws are unconstitutional, including: 

  • Remaining in a park after posted hours (Section 3b).
  • Taking up temporary abode overnight (Section 10).
  • Erecting any tent or shelter without permission (Section 11).

Park staff are proposing the Parks Control Bylaw be amended to allow people to erect temporary overnight shelters in parks "when they have no other housing or shelter options." 

The relevant sections would be modified to allow for temporary shelters, with guidance on where they can be erected, what restrictions apply and how the space can be used. 

The report recommends that shelters only be permitted overnight and be removed each morning, that is dusk to 7 a.m., with an extra hour for cleanup, unless the park board general manager designates an area for temporary daytime shelter.

Shelter restrictions

Staff say they have identified several areas where shelters would not be allowed:

  • On or within a beach, pond, lake or dock, trail, bridge, seawall, roadway or park entrance.
  • Natural area.
  • Flowerbed or horticultural display area.
  • Pool or water park.
  • Sports field, sports court or golf course.
  • Community centre or fieldhouse.
  • Bleacher, stage, gazebo, public monument, picnic area, picnic shelter or washroom. 
  • Designated off-leash dog area.
  • Designated special event area.
  • Within  25 metres of playgrounds and schools. 

Other restrictions include:

  • A footprint no greater than nine square metres.
  • No campfires, lighted candles, propane lanterns or stoves or similar devices.
  • Shelters cannot be left unattended.
  • Shelters can't be used to sell goods or conduct business without the permission of the park board. 

The amendments were supposed to be reviewed at a special board meeting in March 2020, but the meeting was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The special meeting will now take place July 13, 2020.

Fire marshalls and Vancouver park rangers discover an unattended motorized bike inside a tent at Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park in July 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

A liaison for several recent homeless camps in Vancouver, Chrissy Brett, accused the park board of doing little consultation before calling the meeting and said forcing campers to tear down every day would be disruptive and harmful. 

"I think it's completely unreasonable, inhumane and definitely not my reconciliation," said Brett.

Homeless in Victoria park to relocate

Also on Friday, the City of Victoria announced it is seeking a court order to require homeless people sheltering in environmentally and culturally sensitive areas of Beacon Hill Park to move to less vulnerable areas of the park. 

The city lists the Garry oak ecosystems in the park as critical to Victoria's biodiversity. 

"While we acknowledge previous court decisions that recognized the rights of people experiencing homelessness to shelter in municipal parks, we all have a responsibility to protect sensitive ecosystems and the natural environment," said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. 

There are approximately 100 people currently sheltering in Beacon Hill park, many of whom have already willingly moved, according to the city.

The city's application is expected to be heard by the B.C. Supreme Court during the week of July 27. 


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