Newly minted Regional District of Nanaimo legislation, allowing people experiencing homelessness to pitch a tent and camp overnight at select parks, has taken effect.
The RDN parks use regulation bylaw, which mirrors a City of Nanaimo bylaw that took effect last year, was unanimously approved Feb. 25, with temporary homeless camping at designated parks permitted from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m.
Under RDN rules, people experiencing homelessness must disassemble shelter and dispose of garbage after that time and may not camp within 30 metres of neighbouring residential property, park buildings, toilets, shelters, playgrounds, picnic tables, internal trails, bridges, conservation zones and in parking lots. Bylaw enforcement will have power to order the person to leave, or remove any animal or vehicle. Officers are also authorized to seize dogs and place them at a shelter.
The bylaw encompasses more than homeless camping, and Tom Osborne, RDN general manager of recreation and parks, said infractions will be dealt with differently.
“There are fines and fees imposed through the bylaw for a variety of things,” said Osborne. “That could be anything from smoking within parks or removal of vegetation and so forth or, of course, homeless camping. They are treated individually, case-by-case as we go forward and we’ll work very closely with our bylaw officers in regards to remediation of the issue and … if required fines would be issued, but they ultimately go to ensure that the compliance with the bylaw takes place.”
In an e-mail, Tom Armet, RDN manager of building and bylaw services, said enforcement will be complaint-based with two ticketing options: a municipal ticket with a maximum penalty of $1,000, and a bylaw offence notice with a $500 maximum set by provincial legislation. The bylaw offence notice is more commonly used as it only requires an adjudicator in a dispute compared to the more expensive provincial court trial in a municipal ticket information prosecution, Armet said.
Recent B.C. Supreme Court rulings have essentially given people experiencing homelessness the ability to set up temporary shelter in parks, and Osborne and Dave LaBerge, City of Nanaimo manager of community safety, said the intent is to bring legislation in line with provincial law.
LaBerge said an issue that has arisen through enforcement of the city bylaw is scope of cleanup.
“I think the big frustration lately is [the camps] have been really big, have a lot of garbage and take a lot of resources to get them cleaned up,” Laberge said. “But we certainly want to hit them now because as soon as it dries up, then it becomes big fire hazards and that’s our other big challenge. If we don’t find these things and mitigate them in a timely basis then we inevitably get fires in them.”
As for the RDN, Osborne said there haven’t been any major issues yet with homeless camping within the regional parks system.
“As far as garbage removal and so forth, we haven’t seen that to date … but we will be monitoring that over the coming months and year and we’ll be addressing that and if we have to budget for it in future budget cycles, that will be done,” said Osborne.
Homeless camping is forbidden at numerous parks in RDN electoral areas, with some of the exceptions being Mt. Arrowsmith Massif Regional Park, Little Qualicum River Regional Park, Benson Creek Falls Regional Park, Mt. Benson Regional Park and Nanaimo River Regional Park. Recreational overnight camping is only allowed at Horne Lake and Descanso Bay regional parks with a nightly fee, the RDN said.
An RDN staff report recommends additional resources for homeless camping bylaw enforcement, with a part-time officer estimated to cost $44,000 annually.