In April, when Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Chris Coleman floated the idea of changing city bylaws to allow people to legally sleep in their cars, the proposal was partly based on statistics that showed the number of tickets issued had nearly doubled from 80 in 2014 to 176 last year.
This, they maintained, was an indicator of the lack of affordable housing options and record low rental vacancy rates in Victoria.
But a report by acting Victoria Police Chief Del Manak and city manager of bylaws Nancy Johnston has clarified the numbers and at least for the moment, put on hold a proposal to let people sleep in their vehicles if the vacancy rate remains below three per cent – it’s currently 0.5 per cent.
Manak reported that VicPD has written no tickets for the offence in the past three years, and stressed that his officers always exercise discretion when enforcing the laws. Police and bylaw officers need the right to decide whether to ticket people based on the circumstances, he added.
“There may be cases where you want to issue a ticket,” Manak said. “We’ve responded to numerous complaints about the practice from residents who feel unsafe when someone is continually sleeping in their car in front of a residence. We talk to those people and we can almost always resolve the issue by asking those in the cars to be respectful of the situation and find other locations in which to sleep.”
Most times, explained Manak, his officers are just as concerned about the safety and well being of the people in cars and will often check to make certain they are all right.
Johnston reiterated the chief’s concern with the change and noted that the vast majority of tickets issued involved recreational vehicles and campers parked illegally on city streets.
“We’ve responded to a lot of calls about people sleeping in cars and we’ve issued a grand total of three tickets. We already exercise considerable discretion and consideration. No one has to tell us to do it; we’re doing it,” she said.
Despite the information presented to councillors, Coun. Ben Isitt proposed an amendment to the bylaw to allow for sleeping in vehicles, but the motion failed. Helps explained her unwillingness to support the motion, saying that in light of the new information, she required more time to examine the issue.