Can homeless people camp in Kamloops city parks?

This homeless camp adjacent to Pioneer Park was disassembled by Bylaw officers and contractors on Nov. 10, 2015
Image Credit: FILE PHOTO

KAMLOOPS – With spring weather upon us and summer rapping at the front door, Kamloops, like cities and towns across B.C. will be grappling with conflicting uses of city parks, particularly regulating overnight camping.

Yes, you read that correctly.

A series of decisions from the Supreme Court of B.C. have broadly established that municipal bylaws that prohibit people from using temporarily shelters in parks is unconstitutional when shelter beds are not available.

Kamloops has taken its own approach to the problem.

According to a Kamloops parks bylaw, no one is allowed to set up a shelter in City parks or on public land. While that bylaw is enforced, there are some exceptions. Temporary shelters may be constructed on areas of City land that are not landscaped such as river shores or wooded areas, according to John Ramsay with City of Kamloops Bylaw.

Anyone sleeping in temporary shelters cannot have a fire or leave litter or waste behind.

“If it’s manicured and being looked after by the City for public use, we don’t allow temporary shelters in those locations. However, we do allow it in other parks like Peterson Creek,” Ramsay says.

He says as far as he knows, the hours are working well and hasn’t heard any challenges or complaints about the time limit. Ramsay says the bylaws are in place so everyone can use City spaces.

“Our parks are being used by the public at 7 p.m., especially Riverside Park and sometimes people will be there until 10 p.m. The bylaw is meant to address what’s best for everyone in the community as a whole,” Ramsay says.

If someone with a temporary shelter is found breaking the rules, the camp is taken down and discarded by Bylaw and RCMP officers.

“It’s not about displacing people or targeting them,” Ramsay says. “We are trying to provide education, treatment, beds and help for anyone who wants it.”

First, officers issue a 24-hour removal notice. Ask Wellness outreach workers then visit the camp to offer social supports or resources. If the shelter isn’t removed in 24 hours, the camp is torn down. Everything aside from personal items like identification or medication is thrown away, Ramsay says. Individuals can recover personal property from Kamloops Animal Control.

FILE PHOTO - A homeless camp was discovered in this tunnel in Valleyview.
FILE PHOTO - A homeless camp was discovered in this tunnel in Valleyview.

If the camp has clearly been abandoned, officers can take it down immediately, he says.

Ramsay says monitoring temporary shelters and nuisance behaviours is nothing new and a Bylaw officer is scheduled to work with RCMP members to handle public concerns.

“People were sleeping in doorways, participating in aggressive panhandling, and camping in the middle of parks. These issues have existed for a long time,” he says.

Jennifer Casorso with the City of Kamloops says last summer local enforcement and outreach groups noticed an uncoordinated response in the face of the nuisance behaviours of some transient people. In an attempt to curb those problems, a task force known as the Community Action Team was created.

Panhandling, temporary shelters and nuisance behaviours can be problematic and the group wants to look at ways to address them.

The Community Action Team is made up of about 40 organizations that want to tackle key issues stemming from homelessness. Representatives meet to discuss harm reduction, crime control, share ideas and ways to address concerns of the public.

Other municipalities have taken a different approach to the same issue. When emergency shelters are full, people can pitch a tent in Vernon City parks with no time restrictions, according to a recent council decision.

A recent report from Vernon City Council calls Kamloops’ time restriction of temporary shelters from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. “stringent” and wondered aloud whether the bylaw “would stand up to the scrutiny of the courts” if it were challenged.

As far as whether the City's temporary shelter bylaws are in violation of charter rights, or go against B.C. Supreme Court decisions, Ramsay says it boils down to interpretation and any law including a bylaw is subject to judicial review.

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