Cranbrook, BC (April 17, 2023) -- Increasing numbers of homeless individuals in the City of Cranbrook and increasing numbers of visible tent encampments continue to pop up around the community were the subject of discussion at Council Monday night. Council is actively aware of the challenges of homelessness and the issues homelessness brings to the community. Communities everywhere are struggling with this issue, and although there is no working solution for Cranbrook to copy, we are learning best practices and sharing information with other communities with this same issue.
Two guiding pieces of case law (provincial law defined by court cases) set the rules the City of Cranbrook and any municipality in BC must abide by when dealing with homeless encampments:
1. A homeless encampment established on public land can be removed if space is available inside a homeless shelter. Without room in the homeless shelter, a tent encampment on public land cannot be removed (this is the situation in Cranbrook).
2. A homeless encampment can be asked to remove the tents during the daytime and are then allowed to be re-established for the evening so that the City can clean up a site. This option may only be done in the summer and is not allowed in winter. The City of Cranbrook does this now and cleans up the encampment sites on an ongoing basis with staff and contracted resources.
It is a constitutional right for people to be able to take shelter, and BC Courts support the plight of our vulnerable populations that are setting up temporary shelters in public areas.
On Monday night, staff presented Council with several options for consideration around how Council would like staff to manage these issues going forward. These options were created after discussions with a panel of staff with the RCMP, Bylaw Services and Fire & Emergency Services. The options provided to Council for discussion included:
• Keeping the current management practices and clean-up of these sites status quo.
• Requiring that all tents or other shelter structures be taken down daily and moved at least 50 metres from their previous location.
• Creation of a new bylaw that establishes no camping zones near churches, retirement homes, public parks, creeks, schools, etc.; the bylaw would designate specific areas not allowed for encampments, but cannot include all land inside the City, or it would be invalid legally (cannot create a bylaw that makes encampments illegal).
• Make all encampments on public land illegal, except for a designated area for a homeless encampment.
o Establish a proper outdoor encampment location with amenities like power, water, lighting, and sanitation.
o Establishing an indoor shelter in a city-owned facility.
Council put forward and adopted a resolution to continue managing camping on public lands as the City has practiced in the past, with clean ups of the areas in the event of a fire, excessive garbage, or the area has become unsightly as determined by the Engineering and Development Services department. The resolution also directs Administration to draft a bylaw allowing for the taking down of tents and temporary structures on public lands with no camping allowed on designated City parks, recreational areas or within the vicinity of schools, creeks, etc. The resolution also directs that Administration clearly define temporary structures.
BC Courts allow cities to develop no-camping zones but also expect us to allow areas within City limits for members of the vulnerable population to take shelter.
The direction provided by Council will guide the community going forward around how the City and its operations will manage homeless camps in the future.
“Council has received reports from numerous experts and agencies, including our legal counsel, and considered various options to deal with encampments. Currently, we feel this is the best option available to provide the City with some form of control of our local situation. We will consider other potential proven solutions that may develop as we move forward,” says Mayor Wayne Price.
The benefits of this management option will allow areas of Cranbrook to be protected from encampments and reduce the number of tents overall. Other benefits would include a reduced population of individuals ‘living rough’ as more of them will seek proper shelter and accommodations that would allow them to store their belongings, bicycles, shopping carts and other necessities. Hoarding items would also not be allowed, reducing the number of unsightly areas staff must regularly clean up.
“The bylaw department is committed to ensuring that the residents of Cranbrook feel safe while ensuring that individuals that choose to ‘live rough’ are handled properly within the jurisdiction of the law and receiving the support of Interior Health and other providers in the area,” says Paul Heywood, Manager of Building and Bylaw Services with the City of Cranbrook.
With this direction from Council, staff will begin drafting the new bylaw to establish no camping zones, which will come forward for Council discussion and approval soon.