A hot-button social problem arose in Wednesday night’s operational budget conference when city Director of Civic Functions Lucas Pitts brought forward what would otherwise be a basic housekeeping concern.
The issue is creating a law governing over night camping in city parks– not by homeowners, however by homeless individuals who haven’t anywhere else to sleep.
This, after a series of court battles in the lower mainland saw the B.C. Supreme Court discover against municipalities attempting to prohibit homeless people from oversleeping municipal parks.
On Sept. 30, 2008, the B.C. Supreme Court overruled a Victoria law intended at preventing homeless individuals from establishing tents and sleeping in city parks, while on Oct. 21, 2015, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson found that City of Abbotsford bylaws prohibiting homeless people from sleeping in public locations violate Section 7 of the Charter, which secures individuals’ security and security of person. He also rejected the city’s demand seeking a permanent restriction on homeless camping.
These were 2 of lots of court battles involving a variety of lower mainland neighborhoods, most of which were chosen in favour of the homeless.
Pitts stated that, while it’s currently not a huge problem in Castlegar, a pro-active approach is necessary in guaranteeing the city’s hands aren’t connected should a comparable circumstance occur here, pointing to homeless camps that became controversial issues in both Trail and Grand Forks recently.
“If you established a bylaw, you can put borders around it,” Pitts stated. “When they (the homeless) get entrenched, you can’t force them out– they can establish camp in the middle of a play area, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do.”
He said that, while the city is required by law to enable the homeless to oversleep local parks, they can put cautions around it– for example, requiring they sleep a particular distance from play areas, houses, organisations, and so on
“If the bylaw is then violated, bylaw enforcement is empowered to release a ticket (which will likely be disregarded out of hand), a follow-up ticket, and can then seek a court injunction, at which point the RCMP would implement that they leave the home.”
Pitts acknowledged that any such bylaw would be but one little piece of a huge, very complicated homelessness crisis, which it’s not intended to attend to the bigger issues of hardship, dependency, absence of housing, etc.
“It’s preparing for a potential (problem), and I believe it’s prudent to guarantee the city has options in managing it,” he stated, including there is no intended judgment or punitive capacity. “It’s actually just making sure that our kids can use our play grounds or play soccer, safeguarding our homeowners and our entrepreneur.”
Previous city councillor and head of the regional food bank/drop-in centre/homeless shelter Deb McIntosh stated such a bylaw would make more sense if it was supported by more policy resolving the social concerns and source of the homelessness crisis.
“Putting policy in place is an advantage to assist council with making extremely challenging decisions, however (this budget) is missing the individuals part,” McIntosh said. “They’ve left that entire sector out, focussing on policy and process, but forgetting about people.
“That’s why I’m submitting an ask for $6,000 to go to the Community Harvest Food Bank for homeless programming, food and shelter under their umbrella.”
She said another benefit to making social programming a budget line product is that it offers city staff and council a lorry by which they can start to develop policies and partnerships to attend to these increasingly-pressing issues.
The second of three budget-debate conferences will take place tonight at the Community Online forum at 5:30 p.m., and will attend to capital investment.
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