Sidney is set to tweak bylaws governing overnight camping in public parks amid concerns from some residents about a perceived rise in homelessness, a perception disputed by others.
Councillors last month gave three readings to revisions clarifying how the municipality defines which homeless people are allowed to camp overnight, as well some of the rules they need to follow.
These so-called qualifying occupants are homeless individuals who have registered with the municipality, providing photo identification, their full legal name, last residential address and next of kin, while complying with all provisions of the parks bylaw.
A statement from the municipality said the recent bylaw changes awaiting final adoption give bylaw officers and RCMP the clarity to enforce the bylaw as intended without changing the approach of the municipality toward overnight camping.
“Enforcement related to overnight camping was relaxed over the pandemic as a result of provincial direction,” it reads. “The Town, in cooperation with the RCMP, is now resuming regular enforcement.”
In Sidney, homeless individuals may take up overnight accommodation and erect or occupy a temporary shelter in a park, between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. the following day.
They may not erect the temporary shelter, or occupy, or take up overnight accommodation within 100 metres of any playground, community garden, sports field, tennis court, picnic shelter, gazebo, stage, water park, skate park, parking lot public washroom, ornamental garden, or horticultural display, among other measures.
Reports received by Black Press Media suggest a growing presence of homelessness in Sidney, with the bandshell in Beacon Park having become a focus. The agenda of Sidney’s regular council meeting of July 18 also contained a letter from Yolanda and Denis Corbett, who called on council to stop “the proliferation of the street people in Sidney before it gets out of control.”
Such evidence, however, should be read with care. Cpl. Andres Sanchez of Sidney/North Saanich RCMP said the number of people experiencing homelessness in Sidney fluctuates, adding that about 10 people or so currently live in the area without housing.
Overall, Sanchez said homelessness has decreased in Sidney.
He also added that enforcement is only one of several tools used to address the issue of people experiencing homelessness in Sidney.
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