City makes moves to break up tent city at City Hall

The ‘tent in’ established by the city’s homeless on the front lawn of City Hall may be getting broken up.

City staff have drafted legislation that cracks down on any sleeping or camping on city property, specifically between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

City Clerk Peter Wipper said the homeless who have set up tents in front of City Hall are welcome to express their views but at the same time the city wants to set some boundaries.

“The tenters here are engaged in a protest and we respect their right to protest, however, we want to establish rules of when camping will be permitted,” Wipper said, noting the bylaw restricts what time of day camping on city property is not permitted.

“So they couldn’t leave their tents up during the day but they could create shelter for themselves at night.”

That’s not sitting well with the protestors.

“We’re livid,” said Lynn Gray with Grassroots Kind Hearts which has been providing warm meals for the homeless camped out at City Hall.

“If this ruling goes through, we will find a downtown visible piece of Crown (provincial) land.”

City council, at its Monday meeting, gave first two readings to an amendment to the city’s public nuisance bylaw that falls just short of a complete ban on camping on city property.

Karl Read, city bylaw officer, said a recent court of appeal decision involving the City of Victoria states that an arbitrary ban on camping, where there are insufficient options for adequate shelter, is not constitutional. But, he said, there are some tools the city can use.

“Part of that decision stated that provisions that prohibit such use between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. may meet the Charter of Rights obligations,” Read said. “While a municipality cannot impose an arbitrary prohibitive ban it is still incumbent on the city to maintain orderly and safe public places.”

Read said the proposed amendments recommended to council respect both of those responsibilities.

The bylaw amendment says that no person shall sleep, camp or erect a tent or shelter, or place other sleeping or camping equipment at City Hall, the Community Centre, the Sportsplex, Spirit Square, the Visitor Centre, Robert Ostler Park, the library, Tidemark Theatre or Centennial Pool. It further states that no one shall sleep, camp or erect a tent or shelter on any street; at any city facility without washrooms; or at any other city facility, including city parks, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Anyone caught sleeping, camping or placing sleeping or camping effects on a street or at a prohibited city facility are subject to a penalty of $200.

The city’s homeless have been camped out in front of City Hall since late March, just prior to the Extreme Weather Shelter closing in early April.

A petition signed by 850 community members is asking the city to do more to find a permanent solution for getting the city’s most vulnerable off of the streets year round. They’re looking for a permanent facility downtown.

“We’ve tried our very very best to work with the mayor, council and other service providers,” Gray said. “Even though we are visibly protesting, we are additionally maintaining open communication with the city and have tried to gain support through them as our ultimate goal is to come together on an agreement on a suitable location.”

Mayor Andy Adams has said council is committed to working with the homeless to find property for a facility that would serve hot meals, provide coffee and a warm, dry place to sleep.

Gray stressed that Grassroots is not looking for funding from the city, just a suitable property.

She said council was expected to discuss a building proposed by Grassroots during an in-camera meeting Monday but the group has yet to hear back.

The homeless will have the option of returning to the Extreme Weather Shelter temporarily as BC Housing announced Thursday that it will provide funding to keep the shelter open until the end of June.