One of the most controversial and persistent issues in Vancouver has entered a new phase after the Vancouver Park Board announced a special meeting to receive a new staff report suggesting bylaw changes to allow campers to put down stakes in parks overnight.
A report, authored by the board’s general manager, recommends “the Parks Control Bylaw be amended to allow people to erect temporary overnight shelter in a park when they have no other housing or shelter options.”
Under the proposed changes, campers would be expected to pack up their tents by 8 a.m. and, if approved, washroom facilities and storage options would then be arranged by the board.
The report also recommends the designation of authorized parks for overnight camping, which would have to be 25 metres from schools and playgrounds, avoid sensitive environmental features, protect green spaces and support public use of fields, pools, and other amenities.
Dozens of homeless campers have set up tents in East Vancouver’s Strathcona Park in recent weeks after dozens were arrested under judicial authorization for refusing to leave an encampment parking lot owned by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority next to CRAB Park. Before that, they’d been forced from a long-term tent city at Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside under a ministerial order driven in large part by concerns the COVID-19 pandemic could spread like wildfire.
It notes that the Vancouver Board of Parks and recreation has a duty to all park users, including those who are experiencing homelessness, which is describes as a crisis.
It also includes a chart showing there’s been a 625 per cent increase in ranger calls since 2015, a rate that’s surged in lockstep with the growth in the number of temporary structures in parks.
“When temporary structures erected as shelters remain in parks for extended periods of time, particularly if in concentrated numbers, the resulting encampments can impede community use of much needed public green spaces; result in the accumulation of debris and human waste; and create opportunities for increased violence and health risks,” says the report.
While the park board was reluctant to remove campers from Oppenheimer Park, the province announced that the need to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission was of vital importance, so government bought hotels to house 261 people. Others were offered housing at social housing facilities. Not everyone has accepted the accommodations offered.
The report to park board commissioners also emphasizes that “Although the Parks Control By-law does not permit people to remain in parks overnight, or to erect temporary structures, these bylaws have not been enforced as the BC Supreme Court ruled that any bylaws prohibiting homeless people from erecting temporary shelters and sleeping in city parks would be a Charter right violation given the lack of adequate shelter capacity for individuals experiencing homelessness.“
Commissioners will hear a staff presentation and debate the report at a special meeting on July 13 at 6 p.m.