Saanich council has expanded the number of parks where people will be barred from setting up overnight shelters.
Council has voted to add 25 parks to the list of 64 that are currently off limits. The municipality still has 81 parks where people can pitch a tent from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m.
Saanich council amended its parks management bylaw last July to align with B.C. Supreme Court rulings that people who are homeless have the right to camp overnight in public parks in places where there are insufficient shelter beds.
The amended bylaw listed the parks where such temporary shelters were permitted and specified the areas where they were prohibited.
Residents, however, wanted other parks added to the no-camping list, so council asked staff to look at refinements.
In deciding which parks to add, staff considered such things as whether parks were listed as sensitive ecosystems and the proximity of overnight sheltering spots to playgrounds or sports fields.
“If it was deemed that a temporary overnight shelter could be located in the park without affecting existing infrastructure or environmental features, the park remains on the list that permits temporary overnight sheltering,” the staff report said.
Coun. Rebecca Mersereau commended staff for developing objective criteria to assess the parks. “I think that’s really important for us, to strike a balance between respecting and upholding constitutional rights and ensuring that we administer this fairly across Saanich,” she said. “So I appreciate that transparency.”
Coun. Nathalie Chambers agreed, saying staff managed to strike a “delicate balance between compassion and conservation.”
Mersereau and Coun. Judy Brownoff both questioned whether the overnight shelters will conflict with other park activities.
Staff said the approved setbacks — shelters cannot be set up within three metres of playgrounds, playing fields, skate parks and other facilities — should be sufficient to allow programs and activities to proceed unhindered.
Suzanne Samborski, director of parks and recreation, noted that larger parks have sufficient space for overnight sheltering “in a compassionate way” despite the presence of playgrounds or sports fields.