Camping in Polson Park is allowed between dusk and 9 a.m., but Coun. Scott Anderson is hoping this can be changed. (Jennifer Smith - Vernon Morning Star)

North Okanagan councillor pitches homeless camp at city hall

805 bylaw calls in 10 months were for inappropriately set-up camps

A Vernon city councillor suggested homeless people should set up their tents at city hall as a sign of solidarity with the citizens of Vernon.

“My hope in inviting the street entrenched population to city hall is that Vernonites will understand that we all share the burden created by drug addiction and mental illness,” said Coun. Scott Anderson in a statement.

“These problems will persist until the province starts addressing the actual addiction crisis instead of focusing solely on status quo harm reduction.”

Anderson also put forward a motion Tuesday calling for a camping ban in Polson Park, reduced hours for overnight camping across the board and the addition of more security.

“Polson Park is Vernon’s jewel and often the first thing visitors from the south see as they enter town,” Coun. Anderson said, referring to the favoured camping area near the park’s fountain.

“It’s become both an eyesore and a burden on our bylaw and RCMP officers, and it’s time we did something about it.”

In his motions put forward to council on Nov. 12, Anderson asked council to limit temporary camping hours from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. These motions will be up for discussion during the next council meeting in late November.

Currently, overnight camping in Vernon parks is only permitted between dusk and 9 a.m. in specific municipal parks in Vernon, but between Jan. 1 and Oct. 28, 2019, 1,153 temporary shelters were established on public property.

Temporary overnight shelters can be established in parks except for Cenotaph Park, Spirit Square/Civic Grounds, the Recreation Centre and Performing Arts Centre, Kal Tire Place — including overflow parking near Kin Park — and anywhere in Linear Park.

Between January and October, bylaw officers were called to 5,711 incidents ; 805 of which were for inappropriately set-up camps — whether they were set up too early, or dismantled too late. In 270 cases, camps were established in prohibited locations.

Bylaw manager Geoff Gaucher told councillors that while Street Entrenched Policing Target Analysis (SEPTA) files make up approximately 49 per cent of bylaw’s caseload, these types of files take up 100 per cent of the seasonal enforcement’s time.

According to Gaucher, bylaw has handled 2,819 SEPTA files in 10 months, and 43.6 per cent of those files are related to camping – or 1,231 cases.

“I pity your job,” Coun. Anderson said.

Coun. Kelly Fehr noted a significant amount of money and bylaw’s resources are being used to deal with homelessness issues.

Although it’s a municipality’s responsibility to allow overnight camping if shelters are full, Coun. Fehr said there’s too high a cost associated with “telling people to get out of the park.”

Coun. Fehr brought up the possibility of the city designating one of its many parks to allow for a longer-lasting temporary camp when its shelters are full, so those in need don’t have to pack up their belongings only to rebuild camp come nightfall.

CAO Will Pearce did not recommend that as a solution because it is challenging for police to ensure safety and sanitation and ultimately they will have to dismantle it once it’s established.

“Our practice is to be entirely respectful of the civil rights in Canada and the B.C. Courts and make provisions for camping overnight in municipal parks with a few exceptions,” Pearce said. “Folks are required to pack up camp and be able to move.

“Administration would not encourage the recommendation of any park,” he said.

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Caitlin.clow@vernonmorningstar.com

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