Temporary Shelter in Parks – Parks Board speaking notes

In July 2020, I had the chance to address the proposed by-law that aimed to allow and govern temporary shelters in Vancouver city parks.

I was Speaker #41 of some 90 and spoke and answered questions at the July 14 2020 Vancouver Parks Board special meeting.

In this article, I am sharing my speaking notes so they may be useful for others in the future when this inevitably comes up again.

Click on image to watch the Vancouver Park Board recording of my testimony on the Parks Control By-Law on Temporary Shelter in Parks

In the end, Parks Board voted 4-3 to proceed with their plan and passed the proposed bylaw unamended.

Vancouver Parks Board announces a new bylaw to chante how the city manages temporary structures and tents in parks

Thank you commissioners for engaging in this session to hear feedback from the Vancouver community on the proposed regulation of overnight camping in Vancouver parks.

My name is Morgane Oger. I am representing myself tonight. I am also here as the founder of the Morgane Oger Foundation which works to reduce the gap between Canada’s human rights laws and their application on the ground. I am also bringing my experience as past chair of Vancouver District Parents Association, DPAC, which speaks for the families of nealy 60,000 learners enrolled in Vancouver School Board.

5 years ago the BC Supreme Court [1] ruled everyone has a right to find one’s own temporary shelter when one has none available and that municipalities are not allowed to prohibit anyone from sleeping outside or from erecting a temporary shelter  if they have no access to indoor overnight shelter. Legal advocacy groups including the Law Union of BC have voiced their concerns.

My message tonight is that although the changes under consideration are needed, they fall far short of addressing the needs of either the homeless population nor of the other Vancouver communities who also use the spaces.

I am pleased to offer some recommendations that I believe need to be addressed in order to fully agree with these recommendations.

Without safe, governed spaces with basic services in which campers can stay for extended periods of time, without ensuring the safety of everyone in or near our parks, and without addressing dangerous behaviour, the proposed Vancouver Parks Board bylaws to govern temporary shelters offers little that is new that we can believe they are in a position to enforce and imposes undue hardship on those whose conduct they are being deployed to address.

Municipalities need to do better than what they propose in the matter at hand. Our parks board needs to do more than force campers to decamp daily to protect our fragile eyes from needing to see homelessness with our own eyes.

Municipalities need to do more than create by-laws. Our parks board needs to do more than placate frustrated residents who say that affected neighbourhoods are becoming unsafe because of a lack of effective action by our city or by our police in response to incidents of public intoxication, public use of drugs, defecation, sex acts, and non-violent property crime in our public spaces.

Moms and other parents with young children have been particularly outspoken telling you that our Yaletown, Strathcona, Crosstown, and West End parks and public spaces are no longer safe for their families and I agree with them. These are long-standing concerns.

Our municipalities need to engage with impacted stakeholders – including the persons whose conduct our city proposes to govern. Our municipalities are expected to meet their constitutional responsibilities while upholding everyone’s dignity and while keeping us all safe.

Union Gospel Mission reports that 3,600 people are experiencing homelessness in Metro Vancouver today and that 60% of them live in our city. The city homeless count estimated around 600 people have no access to housing of any kind.

Since the last provincial general election the BC Government and the municipalities have been working together aggressively to address homelessness, addiction, and mental health.

2500 supportive homes have been built across BC.

Several hundred hotel rooms were purchased to them into permanent housing.

Vancouver has received more than any community in BC to keep people housed. Over 20,000 new low income and affordable homes are under construction.

Over 20 youth mental health and addiction centres have been established or are in the process of coming to communities across BC. More money has just been announced for additional treatment beds.

Thanks to an additional 4.2 million per year of just-announced funding, people who use substances in B.C. will have greater access to ongoing support and health care services with seven new and nine expanded substance use teams to help people stay connected to health care services and treatment.

To maintain the safety of all users of our parklands – especially the safety of our young children and our elders, I propose the following four recommendations be considered:

  • An excellent way to prevent altercation is to ensure separation of purposes. Increasing 25-m distance from named sensitive areas – schools and playgrounds – to provide better separation from children. I recommend 50-m.
  • Add the entrances of daycare facilities and other location that children are likely to congregate such as community centres to the specified buffer distance.
  • Everyone needs to feel safe travelling along them to and from parks facilities or schools and sidewalks are key infrastructure. Add a setback of a reasonable distance from any sidewalk that is not part of the park itself. 
  • Consider working with the city and with the province to identify a space that would enable a governed, sanctioned camp that provides community, dignity, security, sanitation, and community services everyone living in Vancouver relies on. For example, Little Mountain social-housing lands, City of Vancouver properties, or the PNE grounds.

[1] misattributed in my testimony to be Supreme Court of Canada case law rather than to BC Supreme Court case law.


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