British Columbia

Some neighbours of Vancouver tent city speak out in support of legalized park camping

Several neighbours of the homeless encampment at Vancouver’s Strathcona Park spoke out Monday at a special Park Board meeting in favour of proposed bylaw changes that would allow overnight camping in city parks.

Other speakers at special park board meeting say plans don't offer enough protection for children

Vancouver Park Board Commissioner John Irwin rides his bike out of Strathcona Park’s homeless camp on July 3. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Several neighbours of the homeless encampment at Vancouver's Strathcona Park spoke out Monday in favour of proposed bylaw changes that would allow overnight camping in city parks.

Local residents told a Vancouver Park Board meeting that rules restricting camping to the hours between dusk and 7 a.m. would cut down on conflict between campers and their neighbours and give families a chance to use the park.

Katie Lewis, vice president of the Strathcona Residents' Association, said she's heard allegations of arson, dog-nappings and other crimes that have made neighbours afraid to access the park since campers moved in last month.

"We have an incredible lack of green space in Strathcona compared to other parts of the city," Lewis said.

"I would urge you to support the motion today."

The proposed bylaw changes would allow people to erect temporary overnight shelters in parks "when they have no other housing or shelter options." Shelters would be removed each morning unless the park board general manager designates an area for temporary daytime shelter.

'It's not a place that we feel safe'

During Monday's special meeting of the park board, several people spoke out against the proposal.

Some said they objected to the damage that might be caused to city parks by allowing tents to be erected, and suggested that the proposed 25-metre buffer around playgrounds and schools wouldn't be large enough to protect children. Others said it would be cruel to force campers to tear down their shelters early every morning.

But a number of Strathcona residents told the commissioners that the closure of many services for children and families because of the COVID-19 pandemic have made the loss of access to the park particularly difficult, and they're open to ideas that would produce a compromise.

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

Marie Willcock said she recently visited the park with her children and saw that a fire had been started under the swings. She said there were burnt wood chips and broken glass scattered under the swing set.

"Obviously, it's not a place that we feel safe going back to and it's been … a huge loss to us," she said.

Those speaking in favour of the changes include Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry, who also lives in the neighbourhood. He described the proposal as "an opportunity to set a standard for coexistence" recognizing that homeless people deserve a place to sleep while Strathcona residents should have access to their local park.

"Several local residents have recently gone down to the park to forcibly retrieve their stolen property, which is obviously a risky proposition for all parties involved," Fry said.

"There have been trip-line booby traps, bear bangers shot at park users, threats with weapons, swarmings, verbal accostings and physical assaults directly as a result of the encampment."

In drafting the proposed changes, staff cited 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. 

The special meeting of the park board will continue Tuesday evening with more speakers addressing the proposal.

With files from Meera Bains

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