Cranbrook city hall. File photo.

No camping zones bylaw in the works as Cranbrook seeks to manage tent encampments

A new bylaw to assist staff with managing unhoused encampments and temporary structures on public land is in discussion at Cranbrook city hall following direction from mayor and council on Monday evening.

Staff sought direction from elected officials, suggesting five options ranging from the status quo — continuing to manage camping on public land with frequent clean ups — to setting up a designated encampment area, to establishing an indoor facility within a City-owned building.

Ultimately, it was a combination of some elements through an alternative motion from Councillor Lynnette Wray that gained unanimous support from the table.

Wray’s motion suggested staff continue managing public lands, with clean up to address unsightly garbage or a fire, while also giving bylaw services the discretion to take down tents and temporary structures on public lands, as opposed to mandating that anyone camping has to move their site at least 50 metres every day.

Wray’s motion also sought restrictions for camping at city parks, recreation areas, proximity to creeks, schools or civic and provincial buildings, while also seeking a clear definition of a temporary structure.

“Our staff are making some inroads with the ongoing work that’s going on and I wanted that to continue..” said Wray, in an interview on Tuesday. “But also in parallel, to also direct staff to draft a bylaw that will give our staff and the RCMP some additional tools to use at their discretion.

“So the motion that passed, rather than requiring the taking down of tents and temporary structures, allows for the taking down of tents and temporary structures. So the intention, is to give our staff — with support of the RCMP — that discretion. And the key part of that is to continue to build relationships and continue to build trust.”

In recent years, municipalities have been grappling with appropriate policy responses to encampments on public lands, which has evolved over time based on case law and decisions rendered by the courts.

Two key principles have been established from those legal precedents.

Firstly, a homeless encampment established on public land can be removed if there is space inside a homeless shelter. Without room in a shelter, a tent encampment cannot be removed.

Secondly, a homeless encampment can be asked to remove tents during the daytime and then allowed to be set up at the same area in the evening in order to allow city staff to clean up a site — a guiding practice that the City of Cranbrook currently follows.

The BC Courts have affirmed the constitutional right to take shelter, as legal precedent outlines that cities allow areas within municipal boundaries for vulnerable populations to take shelter, while also providing a framework for the development of n0-camping zones.

In addition to guidance from the courts, the Federal Housing Advocate has also launched a review of homeless encampments as a violation of human rights. Following the review process, the advocate will produce a report with findings and recommendations to be provided to the federal minister responsible for housing.

With policy direction from city council now in place, Cranbrook city staff will draft a bylaw that will provide guidance for management and enforcement of tent encampments in the future.

“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. “Currently, we feel this is the best option available 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.”

During the discussions on Wray’s motion, staff noted the intent of the bylaw would be encouraging vulnerable folks to connect with BC Housing and other social services agencies for support, as opposed to enforcing punitive measures.

The proposed bylaw option will allow the city to protect certain areas for encampments and reduce the number of tents. City staff also noted that the proposed bylaw would reduce the number of people who are unhoused by encouraging them to seek shelter and accommodations that would allow for the storage of belongings, bicycles, shopping carts and other items, while also cutting down on hoarding at a tent site.

“The bylaw department is committed to ensuring that the residents of Cranbrook feel safe while ensuring that individuals that choose to ‘live rough’ are handled properly within the jurisdiction of the law and receiving the support of Interior Health and other providers in the area,” said Paul Heywood, Manager of Building and Bylaw Services with the City of Cranbrook.