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)

Vernon councillor suggests homeless set up camp at city hall

Overnight camping in city parks is only permitted between dusk and 9 a.m. in specific parks

A City of Vernon 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,” he said in his statement. “These problems will persist until the province starts addressing the actual addiction crisis instead of focusing solely on status quo harm reduction.”

Coun. Scott 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 on Tuesday.

“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; the campers, he said, leave large, “tarped mounds” left out throughout the day and consume drugs openly.

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

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

Overnight camping in Vernon parks is only permitted between dusk and 9 a.m. in specific municipal parks, 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, they toccupy 100 per cent of the seasonal enforcement’s time.

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 for “homelessness issues.”

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

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

City staff and CAO Will Pearce said that’s not a recommended solution as it is challenging to police to ensure safety and sanitation and they will ultimately have to dismantled the camp once 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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