The City of Nanaimo has adopted new rules around where people experiencing homelessness can take up shelter overnight.
Nanaimo councillors, during a Mar. 4 meeting, voted unanimously to update the city’s existing regulations on where people can take overnight shelter in the city. As a result of council’s decision, individuals experiencing homelessness will not be allowed to erect overnight temporary shelter at Maffeo Sutton Park, Georgia Park, McGregor Park, Kinsmen Park, Queen Elizabeth II Promenade, the Departure Bay seawall and city hall and surrounding property.
However, according to a Feb. 25 staff report on the bylaw, overnight shelter is no longer prohibited at Beban Park, Bowen Park and Colliery Dam Park because they are “broader parks that can balance the rights of all members of the community for usage and access.”
The new bylaw prohibits people taking overnight shelter on pathways, sidewalks, public squares, gardens and environmentally sensitive areas, and camps cannnot be set up within 20 metres of playgrounds, picnic shelters, washrooms, sports fields, tennis courts, skate parks, bike parks or recreation facilities.
Nanaimo’s previous bylaw contained language prohibiting anyone from taking up “temporary abode” or overnight shelter in any park.
The new bylaw was presented in detail to council during a special committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 11. Dave LaBerge, the city’s manager of community safety, told councillors at that meeting that the new bylaws are needed because the city’s existing bylaws are “incompatible” with current provincial case law.
“These [bylaws] as they stand are unconstitutional,” he said.
LaBerge explained that two relatively recent B.C. Supreme Court rulings effectively gave people experiencing homelessness the ability to erect temporary shelter in parks, provided the shelters be taken down the following day. He said the current case law places the onus on municipalities to determine on which public spaces homeless people could erect temporary shelter.
“What the courts look for from the municipalities is bylaws that can strike the interests of both those groups that are using these public spaces. Contrary to the bylaws as we have them in Nanaimo right now, the court ruled that homeless individuals are in fact permitted to sleep in and erect shelters in our public spaces and parks,” he said, adding that there are certain limitations on length of time homeless individuals can remain in a park.
Had Discontent City formed anywhere that was at a public park, LaBerge said Nanaimo’s existing bylaws would not be compatible with current case law. He said the new bylaw was developed over a year and strikes balance between the rights of the homeless and the interests of the public.
“We did a lot of consultation over the last year with the parks and recreation department and what we tried to do was draft a bylaw that includes amendments that reasonably tries to strike the balances of the homeless folks that may use our public spaces and other residents of the city.”
The city’s legal team that was involved in the Discontent City case declined to provide comment.
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