VERNON - A large homeless camp in Vernon is clearing out as officials begin enforcing new restrictions on camping in public parks.
Last week, Vernon council approved a series of bylaw amendments that affect where, when and how a homeless person can set up camp on city-owned land. The new rules mean that campers must dismantle their shelters during the daytime, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Posters went up last week explaining the new rules and today, Aug. 21, the City began moving in heavy equipment for cleanup.
By about 1 p.m. on Monday, there were only a handful of individuals in the boardwalk area at the back of Polson Park. Previously, roughly 39 people were camped out there, according to Vernon bylaw. Some unofficial reports from campers indicated as many as 60 people were sheltering there.
Numerous tents, mattresses, bikes and other belongings remain in the wooded areas lining the boardwalk. One young man who was going through a box of items said authorities had been through earlier in the day but told iNFOnews.ca he was "not interested" in talking. Another woman organizing piles of belongings appeared overwhelmed and said this was everything she had.
The path itself is closed while the city uses heavy machinery to clean up the area.
According to the City, the trail is expected to reopen later Monday afternoon, but will likely be closed again on Tuesday for continued clean-up.
“The homeless campers have been very cooperative and understand the new bylaw. It is difficult for many of them because they need to transport all of their belongings,” the City said Monday in a written statement.
The Supreme Court of B.C. has ruled that municipalities are legally required to allow homeless individuals to sleep overnight in public spaces when there are not enough available shelter beds.
“While overnight camping for people without homes is a legally protected right when shelters are full, the bylaw will prevent permanent and semi-permanent shelters from being established in public spaces such as Polson Park,” Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund said in an earlier media release. “Homeless individuals can continue to use the park and other public spaces during the day just like any other member of the public as long as they are abiding by the law.”
The City of Vernon is appealing to senior levels of government to respond to the housing and homelessness crisis.
Read more stories about the ongoing issue of homelessness in Vernon here.
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