People should not get tickets for sleeping in cars, mayor says

People shouldn’t be ticketed for sleeping in their cars, say Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Chris Coleman.

The two are sponsoring a motion calling for an exemption to the city’s streets and traffic bylaw so that tickets will not be issued to people sleeping in cars parked on the street when the vacancy rate falls below three per cent.

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“It’s an opportunity to say we know we need to get on with building more units and more supportive housing and those things,” Coleman said.

“But there is a shortfall at the moment and some folks, in this case folks who work, are not able to get into appropriate permanent housing, so we have to try to support them.”

The bylaw prohibits parking a vehicle on a street for the purpose of sleeping overnight in the vehicle and sleeping overnight in a vehicle parked on a street.

If the exemption is supported by council, people sleeping in vehicles would face the same rules as those sleeping in parks — they would not be able to park vehicles for sleeping before 7 p.m. and must not remain parked for sleeping after 7 a.m.

Helps said she was alerted to the problem by a working person who could not find accommodation.

“All the motion is doing is saying: Let people sleep while the vacancy rate is so low,” she said. “The horrific thing is that there are some people who are working here, some in the trades, who can’t find a place to live.”

Victoria’s vacancy rate is 0.5 per cent and hasn’t been above four per cent for about 20 years, Coleman said.

Data gathered by the two show the number of tickets for sleeping in vehicles has been increasing: 80 tickets were issued in 2014, 62 in 2015 and 176 in 2016.

And it’s not just summer tourists parking their RVs near the water getting tickets. The data show spikes in February, October and November as well as in June and July.

An informal Facebook request for stories turned up eight verifiable cases of working people who are living in RVs or campers, the two say in their report to council.

“For just sleeping in cars, no people shouldn’t be ticketed,” Coleman said.

“But you need to manage it. Do we actually need to say we’ll take one floor of a parkade and make it available from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.?” he said, adding he’s not sure whether that should be considered.

“What you want to do is not have this issue grow.”

The city has been wrestling with the issue of people camping in parks since 2008, when the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to prohibit someone from erecting temporary shelter in a park if there are no available shelter beds — a decision upheld by the B.C. Court of Appeal in 2009.

In response, the city amended its parks bylaw to allow people to erect tents in parks between 7 p.m. (8 p.m. during daylight time) and 7 a.m. Bylaw officers and police conduct patrols to wake people and move them along.

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