Vernon Council has given final approval to a bylaw that requires temporary shelters in City parks to be dismantled between 9 am and 9 pm.
“This bylaw is consistent with the Supreme Court of BC ruling that states municipalities are legally required to allow homeless individuals to sleep overnight in public spaces when there are not enough available shelter beds,” says a City news release. “The shelters in Vernon are either full or close to capacity on a nightly basis, and the City must therefore allow homeless individuals to stay overnight in parks.”
Mayor Akbal Mund says while overnight camping for people without homes is a legally protected right when shelters are full, the bylaw will prevent permanent and semi-permanent shelters from being established in public spaces such as Polson Park.
“Homeless individuals can continue to use the park and other public spaces during the day just like any other member of the public as long as they are abiding by the law,” says Mund.
Chief administrative officer Will Pearce says the new bylaw will have a 10 to 12 day transition period.
“The City and North Okanagan Social Planning Council/Partners in Action will be working with the Camp Okanagan Outreach Liaison (COOL) Team to create awareness around the new bylaw and continue to provide support for homeless residents in Vernon,” says the release.
Posters are being distributed that show the difference between a permitted temporary shelter and a more permanent structure that is not permitted.
The Partners in Action Committee, with funding for materials provided by the Community Foundation North Okanagan, has built storage containers for peoples’ possessions at the Upper Room Mission.
“It was imperative to build storage so that people don’t have to carry their belongings during the day,” said Annette Sharkey, Executive Director for the Social Planning Council. “Lack of storage options would be difficult on our homeless population and potentially upsetting to the general public.”
“The reality is that people sleeping in the park are significantly more vulnerable to violence and crime than someone using the amenities during the daytime,” said Sharkey.
Council also approved a $100 fine for violators of the shelter take-down rule.
Councillor Juliette Cunningham had numerous concerns with the bylaw including that the times not flexible.
“It’s going to get darker sooner and sooner, so if they are in there after dark at 7 o’clock (setting up a tent), they will be in violation, and potentially be given a $100 ticket which they don’t have the money to pay for. If they did, they wouldn’t be in the park, sleeping,” says Cunningham.
Mund agrees with having a fine, saying there has to be consequences for violators.
“It doesn’t matter what the fine is — it could be $1 — you have to have a record, and after the tenth time of the person being in there, it at least gives us the right to ban that person from the park going forward,” Mund told the media.
Council has also approved an interim strategy for improvement to Polson Park including replacing the sand at the playground with a compressed recycled rubber surfacing, starting a two year pilot program allowing dogs on-leash, and enhancing bylaw officer presence.
“We’re trying to make the park what people expect the park to be,” says Mund.
Councillor Bob Spiers agrees with having a fine a collection point for repeat offenders.
“The $100 is an amount that’s crazy. We’re never going to collect it. Just to keep the paperwork flowing, make it $10 to $20 fine, knowing full well we’re not going to collect that either, and we’re not going to take them to court when they pile up 20 or 30 tickets,” Spiers tells Kiss FM.