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City changing bylaw to allow overnight camping on Lower Patricia Boulevard

The City of Prince George has taken steps to align its Parks and Open Space Bylaw with decisions of the Supreme Court of British Columbia identifying a limited right to shelter outdoors where insufficient shelter space or housing exist in a community.

On March 13, council voted in favour of first three readings to amendments to the Parks and Open Space Bylaw which will formally allow temporary overnight sheltering in the area of Lower Patricia Boulevard. Under the proposed amendments, temporary overnight sheltering will continue to be prohibited on any other municipally-owned property.

The designation of a single overnight sheltering area is intended to facilitate the provision of geographically-centred safety services from a variety of agencies, including fire, police and health services, and will encourage the focused delivery of support services from various agencies and organizations, which the city hopes will assist in connecting those sheltering outdoors with permanent housing and the supports they need. The area of Lower Patricia Boulevard is protected by court order for the purpose of overnight sheltering.

The city anticipates that the amendments to the Parks and Open Space Bylaw will elicit strong opinions from many members of the community, and is aware that outdoor sheltering areas frequently raise safety concerns, for both individuals sheltering outdoors and the broader public. Council has directed staff to urgently report on specific measures to protect the safety of both occupants of the Lower Patricia area and residents of the Millar Addition, and consideration of those options is scheduled for April 12.

The province is responsible for providing housing and social support to homeless individuals. No municipality has the jurisdiction or the financial resources to provide the supports which are required to meet the humanitarian standards that all people deserve on a continuous basis.

The proposed bylaw amendments will bring the city’s bylaw in alignment with the current legal requirements to permit overnight sheltering in the absence of sufficient accessible shelter space. This is a step in creating a foundation from which the city can partner with the province to secure the support and funding required to provide tangible alternatives to homelessness in Prince George.

The amendments are scheduled to come before council for consideration of final reading and adoption on April 12.

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