The Regional District of Nanaimo board unanimously adopted a bylaw at its meeting Tuesday that will permit people experiencing homelessness to camp between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. in parks. However, camping at more than 100 of the RDN’s regional and community parks remains prohibited, and camping is not allowed at trails, paths or water accesses, either.
According to a staff report, the new bylaw will align the region’s approach to some other local governments including the City of Nanaimo and the District of North Cowichan.
Since the bylaw was discussed by the RDN’s regional parks and trails select committee, Coats Marsh Park was added to the list of 107 parks at which overnight camping will remain prohibited.
“If there are future amendments to the lists of parks, those discussions can be held with our staff and we can bring amendments to the bylaw forward at a future date,” said Ian Thorpe, RDN chairman.
He said the topic has been in the news and Area G director Lehann Wallace said her constituents have concerns about having enough money in the budget for law enforcement tied to the park use bylaw.
“That had my phone ringing off the hook of people concerned because in my neighbourhood and many neighbourhoods in Area G, that is happening how but we have little resources left in a budget, with these amounts of administrative increases, to be able to react to that,” she said.
Regional parks not identified on the list of parks prohibited for camping include Benson Creek Falls Regional Park, Little Qualicum River Regional Park, Mt. Arrowsmith Massif Regional Park, Mt. Benson Regional Park and Nanaimo River Regional Park.
In an e-mail, Yann Gagnon, manager of parks services, recreation and parks department, noted that people experiencing homelessness may camp in parks where not prohibited, but cannot camp within 30 metres of neighbouring residential properties, park structures, picnic tables, benches, play fields, trails, roads and bridges. Camp sites must be packed up and vacated between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
The park use bylaw also prohibits smoking or vaping of any kind in all RDN parks. Alcohol and cannabis consumption are permitted only at designated RDN campgrounds.