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Abbotsford bylaw sees park sleepovers as temporary

February 2, 2016
Abbotsford seems to have decided that it's time to deal with homelessness.—Peter Griffin/public domain

Abbotsford decides it’s time to deal with homelessness.—Peter Griffin/public domain

On October 25, 2015, a B.C. Supreme Court ruling opened the door for homeless people without access to proper shelter to legally sleep rough under improvised protection from the elements in Abbotsford parks between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m.

Yesterday (February 1) Abbotsford City Council passed a new Parks Bylaw that allows the city to close that door when it’s good and ready but, in the meantime, be in full compliance with the B.C. Supreme Court ruling.

Abbotsford’s new Bylaw No. 2456-2015 (aka “Parks Bylaw, 2016”) is a careful piece of work. First it puts in place the same restrictions contained in the old bylaw that it replaces.

Section 14 elaborates a restriction against erecting structures (such as tents, buildings or shelters) without written permission of council, while section 17 places a sundown to sun-up curfew on access to parks and prohibits temporary abodes or overnight camping in any part of a park without prior permission of the city’s General Manager.

And then, in order to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, both sections include an exception.

In the event that there is “no shelter accommodation available in the City”, a homeless person may, without prior permission, “take up temporary abode or camp in a Park” and “erect and occupy a Temporary Shelter in a Park”.

The key to the B.C. Supreme Court ruling that allowed homeless people to sleep in Abbotsford parks was a demonstrable shortage of shelter beds.

Abbotsford says it’s now busy eliminating that shortage.

In its press release announcing the new bylaw, Abbotsford City Council is described as being committed to creating a “made-in-Abbotsford response” that  utilizes a Housing First approach toward homelessness in the community.

The bylaw is therefore written to anticipate the day when Abbotsford has both reduced chronic homelessness and added enough shelter beds to easily serve its remaining homeless population. Then the bylaw will legally prohibit homeless people from sleeping and sheltering themselves in Abbotsford parks.

A wake up call for both Abbotsford politicians and homeless alike

In the meantime, the bylaw is strictly worded to only allow temporary homeless shelters inside the 14 hour time frame between 7:00 p.m. and 9 a.m. And it tightly regulates how and where in the parks homeless people can set up their shelters and sleep.

The list of park areas where temporary shelters may not be erected includes: playgrounds, spray parks, pools, horticultural displays, ornamental gardens, skateboard bowls, tennis courts, sports fields, stadiums, dugouts, stages, bleachers, washrooms, picnic shelters, gazebos, recreation facilities, cemeteries, golf courses, pathways, bridges, docks, warves and any location that blocks driveways.

Additionally, temporary shelters may not be erected at three so-called “City-Wide Parks” (Mill Lake Park, Civic Precinct and Abbotsford Exhibition Park), which are all located near downtown Abbotsford and are described by the city as having year-round, high community use.

The end of the Gladys Avenue encampment

The most enduring symbol of Abbotsford’s ongoing homeless problem is the shifting encampment along Gladys Avenue. Over two years ago, in June of 2013, city workers deliberately spread chicken manure at a spot on this street, across from the Salvation Army, just to harass and discourage a group of homeless campers.

In the bylaw press release, Abbotsford’s Mayor, Henry Braun—who inherited the mess of homelessness made by his mean-spirited predecessor, Bruce “Chicken Manure” Banman—indicates that the bylaw is part of a process that will include bringing the “Gladys Road” situation to a proper conclusion.

“Now that the updates to the Park’s Bylaw have been adopted, the City will be asking our local service providers to focus their efforts on assisting any remaining campers on Gladys Road in finding alternate accommodations in keeping with our commitment toward Housing First solutions,” said Braun. “I would like to stress that this process is less about the City adhering to a strict timeline and more about ensuring that our service providers have the opportunity to work with these individuals.”

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