VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Homeless people may soon be able to legally set up shelter in Vancouver’s parks.
Park Board commissioners are getting set to vote Monday on whether to allow camping overnight in the city’s green spaces.
Commissioner Tricia Barker says the topic is expected to draw many different views at the meeting.
“I’m really interested to see what everyone has to say about this,” she tells NEWS 1130. “But, as you know, we have had problems with camping in parks, tenting in parks, and the Oppenheimer issue, now the Strathcona issue, and I am very concerned about the safety in parks that’s for recreational use for people. A lot of people feel they can’t safely use their parks now, so that’s big on my mind.”
The Park Board is looking at tightly managing temporary shelters, including that any tents or other shelters only be allowed from dusk until 7:00 a.m.
If passed, the bylaw amendments would bring the Park Board’s rules in line with a 2009 B.C. Supreme Court ruling that found preventing a homeless person from putting up a tent for overnight shelter breaches their constitutional rights.
Related video: Homeless camping could soon be legal in Vancouver Parks
The Park Board changes would allow shelter overnight when there are no other options. Amendments aim to prevent long term encampments in Vancouver, such as the ones recently dismantled in Oppenheimer Park, CRAB Park, and the latest growing tent city in Strathcona Park.
“When tents and other temporary structures that provide shelter accumulate or remain in place for extended periods of time, they can impact public access to park space and amenities and result in a strain on staffing and resources,” the motion reads.
The changes would also come with many restrictions. Temporary shelters would not be allowed on beaches or trails, at spray parks, sports fields or field houses, at picnic shelters or gazebos, in dog offleash areas, or within 25 metres of playgrounds or schools.
Also, no flames would be allowed while camping at a Vancouver park, including the prohibition of candles and lanterns.
“But also, we know that people aren’t really following those restrictions,” Barker says. “And I think that we are very aware in Vancouver how quickly tent cities can be set up, so there’s a lot of people saying certain restrictions are too much and a lot of people saying they’re just going to be ignored.”
The Park Board notes that a “rise in social issues” in Vancouver, such as the opioid crisis and homelessness, “have significantly impacted the use, safety, and cleanliness of many urban parks on a year round basis.”
As a result of increased demand on the city’s green spaces, the Park Board notes it has lead to “increased conflicts requiring more attention from Park Rangers.”
Barker adds the situation “has escalated” over the last couple of years.
“Commissioner [John] Coupar and I fought very hard to get the injunction to move the people out of Oppenheimer, and this board, they have showed that they’re not really interested in doing injunctions. So, I think that’s a big concern,” she explains. “If we’re not giving the injunctions to move people out of the parks, then our limited amount of Park Board rangers, what are they going to be able to do to enforce this?”
However, enforcement remains a big question. Barker admits there are a slew of issues that people are dealing with on top of not having a place to sleep, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Barker does know is that people aren’t satisfied with the current situation, and that change is needed to ensure safety.
The Park Board meets at 6:00 p.m. Monday.