As Vancouver plans to sanction camping for the first time, city grapples with “complex” legal issues
A very first plan in Vancouver to sanction campsites for homeless people is taking shape, as are some logistical obstacles.
Vancouver City Council heard an update from staff on Monday on the difficulties in finding the best candidates to oversee camping. Staff also presented potential changes to local laws that could bring them into less defined legal territory.
“Frankly, this alone is the most complex legal issue I have ever had to contend with,” city attorney Jonathan Young told OPB.
The advisers took no political decision on Monday evening. Another meeting to discuss campsites is scheduled for August 2nd.
Vancouver revealed plans to sanction a campsite on May 24 to better help those currently homeless. The hope is that this facilitates efforts to help people stay healthy, get treatment for various problems, and find housing.
The city has set itself the goal of opening at least one campsite – which can accommodate between 20 and 40 people – in September. Staff also said they hope to have three sites operational by December. On Monday, we still did not know where the campsites would be.
Jamie Spinelli, homeless response coordinator in Vancouver, extended the deadline by two weeks to find an organization to run the camps. Cara Rene, a spokeswoman for the city, told OPB that providers are “saturated with work and are having difficulty hiring and having enough staff.”
Spinelli also noted the tight six-week window for city officials on Monday night: “The turnaround time we initially gave was pretty quick.”
Deciding where to place campsites will ultimately be a decision for advisors. Young said staff will feature spots that weigh in on various factors and ensure they don’t scuttle campsites in areas with higher poverty rates.
“We want… to make sure that we don’t overload the parts of our city that are already struggling economically,” Young said.
It is likely that Vancouver will have to rewrite some laws in order to make the sites a reality. It is currently illegal to camp on public property in Vancouver without a permit from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and any permit is capped at two weeks.
To allow long-term, 24-hour campsites, the city may need to change its camping ordinance or make zoning changes, Young noted.
Simultaneously, Young said the city may try to consider other areas completely off-limits to camping. We don’t know where. Young noted that the city is concerned about litter near waterways, such as a trail near Burnt Bridge Creek.
The idea flirts with the famous Martin v. Boise in 2018 when the 9th United States Court of Appeals ruled that cities cannot prosecute people sleeping rough if they have nowhere to go.
“We are definitely aligning our stages very closely to make sure that we line up with the 9th Circuit precedent,” Young told OPB. “I don’t know of any jurisdiction that has done it exactly as we are proposing.”
Advisors suggested that some of the campsites be reserved for certain groups, such as women and children. But Young says the idea could also be the subject of legal scrutiny.
He told councilors the idea could run into “constitutional limits.”