Ruling shines spotlight on homeless

Latest decision on overnight park camping ups pressure on cities, governments to act on homelessness, housing and mental health

A leading municipal lawyer predicts cities and senior governments will be under increased pressure to house the homeless as a result of a new court ruling that they can’t be stopped from camping in parks overnight.

Jonathan Baker says the B.C. Supreme Court decision that Abbotsford can’t evict the homeless from a municipal park has broad implications for other communities, which may see more camps spring up in public spaces.

By making homeless tents a potential ongoing legal fixture in local parks, he said, the court has sent a signal that the problem can’t simply be covered up or chased away.

“You can’t govern by shoving a problem from neighbourhood to neighbourhood or from city to city,” Baker said. “You can’t do it with environmental pollution and you can’t do it with mental health. That’s what this means.”

RELATED: City, homeless advocates both pleased with case outcomeWaking up the homeless part of daily grind

He said the Abbotsford decision by Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson was “very balanced” in that it did not require permanent homeless camps to be established. Advocates there had demanded a designated tent city, with facilities including washrooms.

It largely mirrors a 2008 B.C. Court of Appeal ruling on use of parks in Victoria.

In both cases, courts have held that cities with insufficient shelter spaces for local homeless can’t enforce their bylaws that normally prohibit overnight camping in parks, although tents must come down during the day so parks can be enjoyed by other citizens.

In Victoria, that’s meant daily police patrols to rouse homeless campers each morning at 9 a.m. and cajole them to take down their tents until 7 p.m., when they can go back up again.

“Both courts are saying that the problem of people camping in parks is really a major mental health and social problem and ultimately it has to be addressed by governments, one way or another,” Baker said.

He called it a “marked departure” by the judiciary from 1984, when B.C. Supreme Court let the City of Vancouver oust sex workers from the West End, prompting them to migrate to other neighbourhoods.

He said sees “tremendous” potential for an appeal of the Abbotsford ruling – if either side sees enough potential benefit for the cost.

In the meantime, he said, all levels of government should redouble their efforts to work together to provide lasting solutions.

Baker said too many municipalities are concocting new definitions of low-cost housing that translate into tiny yet expensive apartments and fail to respond to the problem.

Some of the homeless simply can’t be housed conventionally, he said, adding some may need a modern type of institutionalization that blends support with some freedom.

That will take political will from the provincial or federal government, he said, because it requires a coordinated approach across municipal boundaries.

“If any one municipality came up with a true solution to homelessness – providing shelter of some sort – that’s where everybody would go and there’d be a shortage again.”

Maple Ridge grappled with a tent city along a public street this year.

The municipality waited until a new winter shelter opened and then persuaded the camped homeless to relocate, many of them to subsidized rentals, although officials had been prepared to use an injunction if necessary.

A winter shelter is being opened this year in Surrey, which is home to the second largest number of estimated homeless in the region after Vancouver and has also sought to remove tent encampments.

Just Posted

Surrey Councillor Laurie Guerra resigns as AutismBC director amid SOGI controversy

AutismBC president Gary Robins says her resignation is effective Nov. 12

BC Ferries passengers wait to leave Vancouver Island after Remembrance Day

Traffic aboard BC Ferries slows after Remembrance Day long weekend

Surrey Mounties investigate drive-by shooting in Fleetwood

It happened Monday afternoon in the 8000-block of 153A Street. Police say no victim has been located.

18-year-old to hospital after shots fired in White Rock

Police investigating early-morning incident

VIDEO: Amazon to split second HQ between New York, Virginia

Official decision expected later Tuesday to end competition between North American cities to win bid and its promise of 50,000 jobs

Canada Post no longer guarantees delivery times amid more rotating strikes

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers closed two major processing centres in Ontario and B.C.

McGill students vote overwhelmingly to change Redmen team nickname

Student union held a referendum after a campaign by Indigenous students

B.C. university Pride group replaces white supremacy posters

Around 50 people walked through downtown Victoria to share posters of love

B.C. to invest $492 million in affordable homes

72 new projects are part of a 10-year, $1.9-billion strategy

Around the BCHL: Surrey Eagles sliding and Cassidy Bowes flows

Around the BCHL is a look at what’s happening in the league and around the junior A world.

Pit bull cross, chihuahua owners must split costs for dogfight damage, judge rules

Eac side responsible for $577.43 towards injuries in Comox Valley incident

3 random words mark every spot on earth

Innovative mapping system assigns three word combinations to 57 trillion 3 metre squares

Most fatal overdose victims did not have recent police contact: Stats Canada

11 per cent of those who fatally overdosed in B.C. had four or more contacts with the police

Most Read