The City of Campbell River amended its nuisance bylaw Thursday to clear homeless campers out of the main section of Nunns Creek Park and confine them to a vacant section in the southwest corner of the park.
The city was under pressure to pass the bylaw in rapid time because organizers of the Campbell River Salmon Festival’s Logger Sports told them that unless the park was cleaned up, this year’s festival – to be held in August – will have to be cancelled.
City council was given a stark look at the disgusting and dangerous condition of Nunns Creek Park in a presentation by Campbell River Salmon Festival officials at the city’s May 30 regular council meeting.
“We just can’t run and set up a logging sports or have a (Salmon) festival, I would not want to bring my child down there if I had young kids, because there’s needles everywhere,” said Jim Lilburn, treasurer and coordinator of the Campbell River Salmon Festival’s Logger Sports.
The Salmon Festival is one of the larger users of Nunns Creek Park and showed why the current condition of the park makes it unsafe for competitors, spectators and volunteers.
“The (log) roller pond is just too, too difficult to clean up and has become a major contaminated area that’s quite a danger to the public as well,” said Salmon Festival Society Presdient Brian Shaw. SalmonFest did not occur in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and it had a scaled back event last summer. During that time, there was an increase in homeless camping with the city, particularly in Nunns Creek Park which is one location close to downtown which permits the homeless to set up temporary shelter, according to a report to council for the May 30 regular meeting. The city is legally required to provide people experiencing homelessness with a location to shelter.
“No park is ideal, however, Nunns Creek Park was identified as a sheltering area (reasonably close to services) that would have the least impact on the downtown,” the city report says.
The area the homeless are currently occuping is an area of the park used by Salmon Festival. In order to help address the society’s concerns, city staff, after walking the area concerned, determined that homeless camping would need to be restricted to a different area of the park. Any plan would need to take in the needs of other park users as well, such as the Campbell River Dog Fanciers who hold a multiday event in August, along with the ball diamonds and environmentally-sensitive areas associated with the creek.
Staff’s advice is that the only area of the park which would be suitable for camping would be the former BMX track area located off Homewood Road where a previous proposal to establish a campground was put forward.
So, city staff recommended and council passed a Public Nuisance Bylaw Amendment at a special meeting June 2 that will prohibit camping throughout Nunns Creek park from April 1 to Sept. 30 annually, except for the three-acre parcel of land fronting Homewood Road, the former BMX track. Council chose not to go with the option of referring the bylaw to various community social service providers for comment prior to adoption on June 13 because it was felt that cleaning out the logging sports part of the park was needed to be done immediately.
The Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness is unhappy with the lack of consultation over the bylaw.
“The Campbell River & District Coalition to End Homelessness would have encouraged a more thoughtful response to the new bylaw that moves unhoused individuals to the old BMX site of Nunns Creek Park,” coordinator Stefanie Hendrickson said. “It appears as though the decision was made with haste and without consultation with social service organizations, nearby businesses, or First Nations. While we acknowledge the criminal activity present and the negative impact on park use at Nunns Creek Park, we firmly believe in working together as a community towards solutions that are considered and planned with care in order to provide a compassionate response to a challenging problem.
“We have reached out to City of Campbell River staff to ask for plans to be put in place for amenities at this end of the park, such as drinking water and toilets. This area is susceptible to flooding and we have encouraged planning for this possibility as well.
“Going forward, it is our hope that multiple sectors come together in respectful collaboration. With planning, it could be possible to find funding that would create a trauma-informed response to camping that would include the safety and health needs of those experiencing homelessness as well as the broader community.”