Neighbours of Mark’s Nature Park in Parksville are concerned about an influx of people camping and leaving behind garbage.
One neighbour, who asked not to be named, told The NEWS that individuals are defecating and leaving needles in the Finholm Street park, behind causing health hazards for the general public.
The neighbour said he’s noticed about a dozen or so campers each morning in the park for several months.
B.C. Supreme Court legislation directs municipalities on how to regulate overnight camping in public spaces. Local governments cannot enact prohibitions on overnight accommodation on public lands by people who are homeless. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants a constitutional right to someone who finds themselves homeless, allowing them to erect a temporary shelter on public lands in order to sleep during the night.
A City of Parksville bylaw states a homeless person may take up overnight accommodation and erect and occupy a temporary shelter in a park between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. There are several rules individuals must follow when camping in a park including not abandoning possessions, debris or any other article for a period of more than 24 hours.
“There are definitely issues with Mark’s Nature Park with homeless individuals in the park. City bylaw compliance is working closely with the RCMP to follow and enforce the bylaw,” said City of Parksville manager of communications Deb Tardiff. “People must be packed up, ready to leave the park at 9 a.m. and cannot leave their belongings in the park. Anything that remains is immediately removed and disposed of.”
City bylaw compliance officers removed materials on June 25 and a contractor was called to remove the remainder of items.
Tardiff said bylaw officials are at the park every day, multiple times, and that it costs the city $160 each time a contractor is called to clean up the park. That has taken place twice so far this week and three times last week.
“Through the RCMP, we are aware that thefts have gone up significantly in the past couple weeks in that area,” Tardiff said.
Oceanside RCMP Cpl. Jesse Foreman said between Jan. 1, 2018 and June 25, 2018, the Oceanside RCMP received 10 calls for service in the area of Mark’s Nature Park and the immediate surroundings. This year between Jan. 1 and June 25, the RCMP received 31 calls for service for the same area.
Foreman said RCMP members are in Mark’s Nature Park every day working with City of Parksville bylaw compliance officers to make sure campers are packed up by 9 a.m.
“Basically how it works is that people are allowed to camp in that park,” Foreman said. “The deal is they’re supposed to be up and it’s supposed to look like there’s no trace of them camping there at 9 a.m.”
Foreman said unfortunately, RCMP members are collecting all kinds of garbage at the park every day.
“It’s frustrating but we are working close with bylaw,” Foreman said. “The problem is if we don’t stay vigilant with this it will become a full-on encampment and I don’t think that’s what the general public wants.”
Although sometimes people aren’t completely packed up by 9 a.m. every morning, Foreman said RCMP members have had good compliance with individuals camping in the park.
“Normally it’s the chief of police that’s down there in the morning, he makes it part of his patrol and we’re trying our best to work with these people and get it all tidied up,” Foreman said. “Bylaw is now bringing actual garbage bags down and helping with that. If [campers] don’t identify that it’s their property, often they won’t, then bylaw has to bring in a truck and haul [items] out. We have to make sure that it’s cleaned up every day for the safety of everyone.”
Foreman said Oceanside RCMP members are not driving homeless people to Mark’s Nature Park and dropping them off there.
“That said, if somebody was in distress or at the hospital and [an officer] said, ‘where are you going for the night?’ and they say ‘I’m camping at the park,’ and we were giving them a ride just like we would to their home, maybe we would drop them off there if that’s where their tent was,” Foreman said. “We’re not seeking that particular park as a place to drop people off.”