Cranbrook city council passed three readings of a camping bylaw Monday night that aims to provide guidance and regulate tent encampments and temporary structures on public land.
The proposed bylaw was prepared by staff in response to increasing numbers of unhoused folks in the community and increased visibility of tent encampments in various areas around the city.
Under the proposed regulations, the bylaw would allow for the taking down of tents during the day, and temporary structures on public lands, with no camping allowed on designated city parks, recreational areas, or within the vicinity of government buildings and creeks, according to a news release.
“Council has received reports from numerous experts and agencies, including our legal counsel, and considered various options to deal with encampments,” said Mayor Wayne Price, in a news release. “We feel this is the best option to provide the City with some form of control of our local situation. We will consider other potential proven solutions that may develop as we move forward.”
An outright ban on on public land isn’t legal, as it is a constitutional right for people to take shelter at night, and the court rulings have upheld the right to take temporary shelter. However, municipalities can designate specific areas where camping is not permitted, while there must be areas within city limits for individuals to take shelter.
Under Cranbrook’s bylaw proposal, specific areas are not allowed for encampment, however, it will provide guidance for staff and the community in terms of how the city and partners will manage encampments.
Through guiding pieces of case law established by the BC courts, a homeless camp can be taken down during the daytime and allowed to be re-established in the evening. This option is permitted in the summer months, but not the winter.
“The camping bylaw is a good step forward, as we try to outline our expectations of anyone that chooses to live in a temporary shelter within the City,” said Paul Heywood, Manager of Building and Bylaw Services with the City of Cranbrook. “Their best option is always to go the appropriate shelter and receive the professional support.”
During council discussions on the bylaw proposal, Heywood noted there are a few areas where the city would ideally prefer tent or temporary structures to be located. Heywood estimated there are currently approximately 30 encampments in the city.
Staff and contracted resources currently clean up encampment sites on a regular and ongoing basis.
While individuals won’t have to necessarily move a tent every day, the bylaw outlines that it must be collapsed for the day. A temporary encampment site must be no bigger than 100 square feet, and all associated personal belongings must fit into an area that does not exceed 36 square feet.
“There is a certain expectation, and we’re doing this to prevent the hoarding and that we can also see the contents of the tents,” Heywood told council. “We’ve had numerous issues already with propane tanks, butane tanks. These are causing fires and serious hazards within these tents.”
The vote was nearly unanimous, as Councillor Wayne Stetski was the lone holdout, with concerns on some of the language in the bylaw and sufficient consultation with associated non-profits.
Community Connections Society of Southeast B.C. is B.C. Housing’s contracted non-profit that operates the temporary shelter at the Travelodge, along with offering numerous associated social services and supports.
The bylaw will help the city manage tent encampments in areas while establishing and maintaining personal relationships, however, the situation remains complex, according to Nancy Reid, the executive director of Community Connections.
“Working with folks daily to meet their needs and build relationships as bylaw and the social development coordinator do is a respectful way to interact,” said Reid. “The problem is that until there is affordable rentals and supportive housing, there is no way for folks to be housed, or even better, belong to a community.”
Reid says there is an “appetite” from both the City and BC Housing to get supportive housing in Cranbrook as soon as possible.
“Supportive housing will help with the mental health factors, but more is needed for mental health, addictions and early family supports,” Reid added. “Community members need support before they get to the point of living rough and once they are living rough there has to be housing options and hope.”
Renovations for a homeless shelter at the Community Connections building are in the works, and the new space is expected to be open by the fall.