Maple Ridge council is looking to amend a bylaw to prevent homeless camps in certain city parks and public spaces.
At its committee meeting Monday, council received a proposed amendment to the parks regulations bylaw.
It relates to temporary shelters in public parks to ensure that city bylaws respect recent judgements by the B.C. Supreme Court. The judgments came as a result of litigation initiated by the cities of Abbotsford and Victoria as they sought to get injunctions against camping in public spaces.
“Council will review the recommendations at the May 24 council meeting to ensure that we can find the balance between the charter rights of homeless people and the needs of other residents of the city with an eye to preventing the creation of long-term encampments,” said Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read.
The Pivot Legal Society, an advocate for homeless people, wrote the city asking about its bylaws, and whether they conform to recent court decisions.
“At this time, we are requesting information regarding your municipality’s timeline and process for amending your relevant bylaws in accordance with the declarations of the court,” said the letter, signed by lawyer D.J. Larkin.
He also referred to the Supreme Court declining to remove a homeless camp on the courthouse lawn in Victoria, due to the lack of shelter and housing options in that city.
“To the extent that your municipality’s bylaws prohibit people from sleeping or being in a park overnight or erecting a temporary shelter without permits, such bylaws require amendment allowing for homeless people to be in, sleep in and set up structures in parks between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. the following day,” said the letter.
Read said it is important the public understands that cities face a “very challenging situation” in restricting or controlling homeless camps, given the recent court decisions.
“At the end of the day, all of us should be focussed on housing, not where people can pitch a tent,” she added.
Read said most of the city’s homeless population is still being housed in the city’s 40-bed temporary shelter.
With warmer weather, tents have been spotted around Maple Ridge, and litter from encampments left in green spaces.
Government funding for the city shelter will expire on June 30. The provincial government has pledged $15 million for a permanent supportive housing facility, but a location has not been identified by the city.
The proposed bylaw amendment outlines specific parks and public spaces where camping is prohibited outright:
“No person shall place, secure, erect, use or maintain a temporary shelter at any time in the civic centre, Memorial Peace Park, Nokai Park or Raymond Park; or in, on or within playgrounds, spray parks or pools; horticultural display areas or ornamental gardens; skateboard bowls, tennis courts or other sports courts; sports fields, stadiums or dugouts; stages or bleachers; washroom facilities, picnic shelters, or gazebos; areas of a park that have otherwise been issued a permit pursuant to this bylaw; recreation facilities; cemeteries; golf courses; or pathways, bridges, docks or wharves within the city.”
In other areas not included in the camping ban, the proposed amendment requires that any temporary structures be removed between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.