Parksville looks at bylaw to deal with possible tent cities

Staff report suggests the current bylaw would be open for legal challenges

The city may ban campers from high-profile, environmentally-sensitive areas as it considers ways to get out front of possible tent-city issues in Parksville.

Council was supposed to consider a report last night, but that regular meeting was cancelled due to a lack of a quorum. It’s unclear when the report will re-surface, but council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for March 21.

If council decides to do nothing, leave park uses as they are, the city could find itself in court, said the report from the city’s director of administrative services, Keeva Kehler.

“The current bylaw would be open for legal challenge given recent B.C. case law,” wrote Kehler. “Should council direct staff to prepare a new bylaw for parks and open spaces, staff will develop provisions to regulate how and where overnight accommodation by people who are homeless can occur.”

As Kehler pointed out in her report, the city cannot adopt an outright prohibition on overnight accommodation on people who are homeless using public lands to sleep or erect structures. The city can, however, adopt a bylaw that prohibits overnight accommodation in “key sensitive areas” and permit it only between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m.

The recommended areas where overnight accommodation could be prohibited include Parksville Community Park, any city-owned lands within 60 metres of the ocean, Springwood Park and the Despard Avenue municipal well sites. Kehler wrote that staff believes it would be beneficial to undertake an education outreach campaign in conjunction with any bylaw implementation.

Her report also made reference to a recent point-in-time count that indicated there are at least 50 people who are considered homeless or at risk of homelessness in the community.

“There are people who would be considered ‘marginally housed’ for the off-peak season, but find themselves homeless during peak summer tourist season when the price of their accommodation increases dramatically or they are evicted from their residences so owners can rent to tourists at higher rates,” wrote Kehler. “The majority of people surveyed (in the point-in-time count), almost 90 per cent, indicated they would be willing to stay in a shelter, but there are no year-round shelter beds in Parksville. Rental vacancy rates are very low in this region and finding affordable housing is a significant challenge.”

A B.C. Supreme Court ruling in October of last year provided some clarification for municipalities on this issue and pointed to a section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that describes people’s right to life, liberty and security of the person.

Vancouver, Abbotsford and Victoria have been dealing with high-profile homelessness issues in recent months. B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman has gone to court in an attempt to take down a camp on the ground’s of Victoria’s courthouse. A ruling is expected Thursday. Coleman has said the B.C. government has homes for every camper at the courthouse.

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