‘That’s our bed’: Sidney bylaw to prevent overnight camping at any park structure

'That's our bed': Sidney bylaw to prevent overnight camping at any park structure

Sidney’s Angela Thomas says the only way to keep her and her partner’s possessions safe is to store them in a tree.

“That’s our bed, our kitchen,” Thomas said in an interview Wednesday.

They’re among the community’s unhoused population, and they say they have nowhere to go.

“We’re just here surviving. Trying to get a roof over our head,” Thomas said.

Currently, there are no overnight shelters in Sidney. Even during the recent extreme weather, the only option was a bus ticket to Victoria to try their luck at one of the extreme shelters there.

Instead, Thomas and her partner chose to shelter under the canopy of a concession stand in Sidney.

“We just finally got a couple of blankets from a church today. We only had one, and we laid on that one,” Thomas said.

The Town of Sidney is about to pass a bylaw that would prevent people from sleeping in “any” park structure.

No one was available for an interview, but the town released a statement:

“The Town of Sidney Parks Bylaw (No. 1688) allows for overnight accommodation within its parks, with key restrictions to balance the needs of different park users. One of these restrictions prohibits overnight accommodation within 100 metres of picnic shelters, gazebos, and stages, along with other park structures.

“The wording around this restriction has proven difficult to administer and does not address some of the complaints we have been receiving from the public, such as concerns related to youth congregating in park structures at night and creating a disturbance. We have also received complaints about unhoused individuals sheltering in these spaces over multiple days, at times making it challenging for other community members to access park facilities during the day.

“To address these challenges, the amended bylaw restricts the use of certain structures within Sidney parks between the hours of 11pm and 7am. The Town’s parks do not close to the public at any hour, so individuals may still take up shelter or occupy another area of a park through the night.

“The Town of Sidney recognizes that there are unhoused individuals in Sidney who need support. The RCMP and Community Integration Specialists from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction connect with people experiencing homelessness in Sidney on a weekly basis to perform wellness checks and facilitate access to support programs.”

It’s 11:30 a.m., and the kitchen at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church is a warm, inviting space.

This is where volunteers like Kenny and Tedly Bracequevil prepare hot meals twice a week for the unhoused, whom they call their friends.

“I really do feel for them because they don’t have a shelter or place to go,” Tedly said.

“Before the council thinks about eliminating people who need our help from having somewhere to stay, they should maybe try to meld that with giving them somewhere to stay,” added Kenny.

St. Andrew’s Church administrative secretary Lois Ainey appealed to council in the fall to help the homeless but was told it was not their responsibility.

“People turn a blind eye to the most part, pretending they are not there or wishing they are not there. But they are,” Ainey said.

Thomas says living outside in the winter is very difficult. But all they want is a roof over their heads.

“It would be nice to have a shelter around here so that we can continue moving forward with looking for a home,” Thomas said.

The Ministry of Housing says BC Housing has funding available for more spaces and is always willing to work with municipalities to help identify suitable sites or secure shelter providers.

READ MORE: ‘Where do people go?’: Over 1,600 homeless in Victoria far surpasses shelter space

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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