Four parks slated for overnight sheltering ban

The city is moving ahead with plans to add four parks to the list of green spaces where overnight sheltering is banned.

Neighbours living near Kings Park in Fernwood are breathing a sigh of relief now that the city is moving ahead with plans to add four parks to the list of green spaces where overnight sheltering is banned.

Last Thursday, councillors voted to amend the parks bylaw for Haegart Park, Kings Park, Cridge Park and Arbutus Park, and developed a list of general principles to restrict the number of areas where camping is allowed throughout the city.

During the summer months, between 12 to 14 tents are regularly set up in Kings Park, located on Caledonia Avenue between Cook and Chambers streets. Neighbours said the evenings are often filled with drug deals, screaming and threats of bodily harm. Some campers defecate on private property, rummage through garbage bins and blue boxes, and steal electricity.

David Hillman lives less than a block away from the park and is looking forward to a summer of peace and quiet.

“I’ve been around here a long time and the rowdiness is just getting bigger and bigger with each passing year,” he said. “It’ll restore the neighbourhood. We won’t have to worry about all that stuff going on — the drugs, the drinking and the thefts.”

This isn’t the first time the city has discussed banning overnight sheltering in the four parks that councillors agreed are more like green spaces given their size and lack of facilities.

Coun. Ben Isitt initially proposed the ban last April, citing the parks are too small and too close to homes. But the discussion was put on hold until council received more information about sheltering solutions.

In 2009, the Court of Appeal ruled homeless people have a constitutional right to set up temporary shelters in a park if there are no available shelter beds. In response to the decision, the city amended the parks regulation bylaw, allowing sheltering in parks between 7 p.m. (8 p.m. when daylight savings is in effect) and 7 a.m. the next day.

In 2014, however, the city and police noticed a significant increase in overnight sheltering at parks and green spaces, resulting in damage to vegetation and ecosystems, impacts on neighbouring residents, and significant costs for clean up and restoration. Camping was most prevalent in Beacon Hill Park, Cridge Park, Topaz Park, Kings Park, Holland Point Park, Arbutus Park and Haegert Park.

Today, many of the campers have left the parks to live on the lawns of the courthouse (owned by the province), where city bylaws don’t apply. The province, however, has told the campers they must leave by Thursday and has come up with 88 spaces for them to move into until more permanent solutions are found. Some campers, however, said they aren’t going anywhere.

Before the city places any bans on the four parks in question, council asked staff to further consult with area residents and those who are currently unhoused or sleeping outside.

For Isitt, the decision to add more parks to the list is a challenging one.

“Those four parks are not appropriate for overnight sheltering and there’s places within the park system that are more acceptable,” said Isitt. “The people living nearby have dealt with the impacts of the camping as opposed to the rest of the community.”

Moss Rock Park, Summit Park and Cecelia Cove Park have already been deemed as environmentally sensitive areas. Parts of Topaz Park, Robert Porter Park and Beacon Hill Park are also protected.

The James Bay Neighbourhood Association (JBNA) has also come forward with a list of 14 park areas where it wants overnight camping banned.