Saanich is facing public pressure to limit overnight camping in its parks.
Lyndsay Edgar, a resident of Whittier Avenue near Rudd Park, voiced that demand Monday, when she called on Saanich to prohibit overnight sheltering in all parks that contain playgrounds or sports fields.
Edgar said she is raising the issue, because of what she witnessed in Rudd Park, where homeless individuals who had previously stayed at Regina Park sheltered for a night in September.
“During that short stay, many of parents in that area didn’t allow their kids to play in that park for several days, including myself, the reason being safety,” she said. “The reason for this is because tent cities cities are associated with higher crime, drug use, foul language, and unfortunately, as was witnessed, people openly defecating in a park,” she added later.
Edgar said she did not let her kids play in Rudd Park until she had talked to police and authorities had swept the field. The temporary presence of the homeless individuals also impacted four local day cares and the Gorge Soccer Association, she said.
“When you mix tents, tent cities and parks where you take your children, children lose out, because they are losing their space,” she said.
Edgar said her “simple and reasonable” request would benefit the 16,000 children who live in Saanich, according to Statistics Canada. At the same time, homeless individuals would continue to have access to overnight sheltering.
Saanich permits overnight sheltering in 102 of its 172 parks. Overall, 54 out of 56 parks with playgrounds permit overnight sheltering. If Saanich were to ban overnight sheltering in parks with playgrounds or sports field, 50 parks would remain for overnight sheltering, said Edgar.
Mayor Richard Atwell said Saanich will incorporate this feedback into its deliberations and decision-making, but also lowered expectations about a quick response.
Chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson said staff are currently revising the existing bylaw.
“That refinement is going to capture some of the concerns that the delegation has raised,” he said, adding that the issue will on land on the desk of the new council.
The Saanich News has reached out to homeless advocates for comment, and will update the story accordingly.