New rules on homeless camping show need for speed

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
April 12, 2018 - 7:03am Updated: April 12, 2018 - 10:57am

KAMLOOPS — It might seem as though Kamloops City council is opening up public parks to the homeless and saying ‘Come on in,” but it’s got more to do with managing an issue that’s not at all easy to manage.

The courts have said homeless people can’t be banned from using public spaces to lay their heads when there’s nowhere else to go.

In effect, public spaces have become sanctioned as potential homeless campsites under a legal interpretation of Charter rights.

That leaves local governments looking for a balance that protects both the homeless and the community at large.

New rules introduced by Kamloops council this week specify 13 areas throughout the city where homeless folks can put up their temporary overnight shelters. The city will even distribute circulars with information on the location of public washrooms and storage areas.

Under a sort of building code for the homeless, homeless folks can put up overnight shelters of a certain size and shape. But it’s as much about where it can’t be done as it is about where it can be done.

Playground areas, sports facilities, cemeteries and places like McDonald Park are off limits.

And the wording becomes “temporary overnight shelter” instead of “temporary shelter.”

It is not, of course, a solution. It won’t eliminate the need for permanent shelters. More and more resources will be required, and there will never be enough social housing.

The City has pretty much accepted that sheltering the homeless has devolved from a strictly provincial responsibility onto the laps of local government.

The very fact the council has to be talking about rules around ad hoc shelters in parks shows that plans for new social housing can’t come about fast enough.

No matter what the rules and plans and stopgap measures, providing shelter for those who need it is going to take a much bigger bite out of city taxes over the next few years.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.