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Those with nowhere else to go can legally camp in Vernon's public parks

A homeless camp in Vernon, Oct. 24, 2016.
May 23, 2017 - 4:10 PM

VERNON - Vernon council has decided to allow camping in public parks, with no time restrictions, when local homeless shelters are full.

Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday, May 26, to suspend enforcement of the Parks and Public Spaces bylaw — which does not allow camping — in circumstances where there are no shelter beds available in the community. Unlike other municipalities, council decided not to impose daytime restrictions on encampments, meaning individuals won’t have to take down tents and camping equipment during the day. 

The move comes in light of court decisions stating the prohibition of overnight sheltering in municipal parks is unconstitutional when homelessness exceeds shelter space.

Council has asked staff to bring forward amendments to the Parks and Public Spaces bylaw to bring it into compliance with the current case law.

Coun. Scott Anderson opposed the motion on grounds that there should be some time limits, such as only allowing camping between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. He felt the City needs to balance the needs of the homeless with the needs of the public as a whole, such as families who wish to take their children to the park. 

“Our public spaces are for everybody, and everybody should be able to use them during the day without fear and… without the prospect of a mess,” Anderson said.

Coun. Catherine Lord felt the logistics of making people take down their camps in the morning to check and see if shelter space has become available would only lead to anger and frustration. 

Clint Kanester, manager of protective services, told council local shelters have routinely been full for roughly the past two years.

Mayor Akbal Mund felt that putting time restrictions on public parks would just push people into other areas of the city, likely the downtown core where issues could occur.

Coun. Juliette Cunningham also felt that creating a time limit would only create other problems.

"These (homeless) people are pretty frustrated, they’re dealing with a lot of issues already. You add this onto it…. It’s a recipe for disaster,” she said.

Cunningham said a time restriction could also lead to damaged relationships between bylaw officers and homeless individuals.

Extra bylaw resources were approved earlier this year to help enforce activity in homeless camps. Outreach workers will visit camps regularly throughout the summer to ensure they are as sanitary and safe as possible.

Additional amendments will be brought forward at a future date to look at specifics, such as the allowable size of camps. 

— This story was updated at 11:52 a.m. May 26, 2017 to clarify that Vernon council suspended enforcement of its Parks and Public Spaces bylaw when shelter space is not available, and that amendments are being brought forwrad to bring the bylaw into compliance with current case law. 


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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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