British Columbia

Victoria mayor pushes to stop ticketing people for sleeping in vehicles

A new motion put forward by Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Chris Coleman would stop police ticketing people sleeping in their vehicles.

Lisa Helps and Coun. Coleman recommend suspending bylaw when vacancy below 3%

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says a shortage of rental homes is forcing more people to sleep in their RVs and cars. (Roshini Nair/CBC)

When Victoria resident Dennis Siemens broke up with his girlfriend a few months ago, he didn't think it would take him until now to find a place to live.

Siemens gets steady work as a carpenter and musician, but he couldn't find a place within his price range of about $800 per month. 

"I did probably 15 different interviews at various apartment buildings in town," Siemens said. 

As a temporary solution, he chose to live in a camper van, even though a friend who had done so warned him he could be fined for parking his new home overnight on city streets.

Siemens says he was careful, but was still issued a ticket about once a month. 

"It's not like people are voluntarily opting to live in campers or sleep in their cars," he said.

"This is a problem of the housing crisis and the least you can do is make things easier for people."

A new motion put forward by Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Chris Coleman is looking to change how people like Siemens are treated. 

They're proposing to amend the city bylaw that prohibits overnight sleeping in vehicles on city streets so it's not applied when the vacancy rate drops below three per cent. 

Sleeping in vehicles on the rise

Currently the fines are $60, or $30 if paid within two weeks. 

"People need to sleep, particularly if they're going to get up to go to work in the morning," Helps said.

"This is just a temporary measure until all those holes in the ground that are being turned into homes are ready for people to live in."

In 2016, police issued 176 tickets to people sleeping overnight in their vehicles — a jump from 62 tickets issued the year before. 

Helps said she's well aware that the city's 0.5 per cent vacancy rate has prompted an increase in people sleeping in their cars and RVs. 

The motion acknowledges a rise in the number of tickets issued in June and July, but an even greater number of tickets issued in November suggests the phenomenon isn't just driven by tourists and visitors. 

Those who do sleep in their vehicles overnight would only be able to do so between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., similarly to the city's rules for people sleeping overnight in parks.

The motion will be reviewed at council on April 6.