Residents frustrated with the recent decision to allow Chilliwack’s homeless to camp in public parks have started a petition addressed to Mayor Sharon Gaetz.
An online petition was started by Anita Jansen of Chilliwack, who said she is concerned about “the loss of parks for our children” as well as property values being impacted by homeless tenters who are allowed to sleep in parks from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m.
“As a result of council’s embracing the new ‘Camping in Parks’ bylaw, we have now traded in the joyful sounds and sights of children playing, to homeless disregard for anything and anyone,” wrote Jansen.
She posted several photographs of a homeless person who had set up under a tree in a Chilliwack park.
“Aside from the trash and drug paraphernalia, where are these people going to freshen up? Currently they are using our stairwells and building nooks. Aside from the loss of parks for our children, it is not doing much for our property values either,” wrote Jansen. “We need another solution. Letting them sleep where they want is not helping them it’s enabling them.”
Jansen’s petition comes on the heels of amendments to the city’s parks bylaw, made on the advice of legal counsel, to conform to similar amendments adopted by Abbotsford and Victoria, after a BC Supreme Court justice struck down Abbotsford’s bylaw prohibiting street people from erecting shelters or camping in their parks.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz is responding gently to the petition, and those who signed it.
“I understand the desire behind the petition, to have homeless people housed and not sleeping in our parks; that is what we all want,” she said.
But the bylaw amendments, which allow the homeless to camp in parks, were aimed at allowing city reps to get out in front of the controversial issue and take proactive measures in a controlled way.
“It is a high priority for us to maintain parks for our residents use and to ensure they remain a safe place to children to play, which is why we amended our bylaw to come into compliance with the court decision,” Gaetz said.
“Through the bylaw we are able to set appropriate times, as well as define required distances from playgrounds, sports fields and more.”
Without those amendments, city officials would not be in a position to “move people along” in the morning or enforce the five-metre minimum distance from play structures and other areas.
“As a municipality, we had to come into compliance with the law. I can appreciate that people want a different solution, but they need to petition the provincial government for that change.”
It’s the province’s, not the city’s responsibility. Despite that Chilliwack has been very active, helping to draft a homelessness action plan. Still, housing, mental health and recovery options for substance abuse are all the responsibility of the provincial government.
“I hope residents will contact their local MLA to request legislative changes at the provincial level,” she added. “I also urge residents to contact their MP and request that the federal government include Chilliwack as a designated community in their Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS).”
Only 61 communities across Canada receive funding that way, but Chilliwack is not on that list.
“Again, we want residents to know that we hear them and share their frustrations. We will do our best to strike a balance between the needs of everyone in our community and will continue to campaign for changes as outlined in our Homelessness Action Plan,” said Mayor Gaetz.