Peterborough city council voted Monday evening to approve updated bylaws on the use of municipal parks and facilities in an effort to address tenting and extended camping at such sites.
Prior to the vote, 10 local residents made impassioned pleas against the proposed bylaws. Some were displaced residents tenting on municipal properties, while others were city residents opposing the proposed changes.
“That park (Victoria Park) is designated for people to camp when they have nowhere to go,” said 35-year-old Donnie Robinson to council. He later approached Mayor Diane Therrien, criticizing the bylaw. He said he has been looking for safe housing since he was 16 years old.
City council approved two new bylaws: a new parks and facilities bylaw and a trespassing bylaw. Three councillors were not present for the vote, but it passed unanimously among the councillors in attendance, with all in favour of the new measures.
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“They’re bylaws that are passed now, and there may be activity in the city that people are not in compliance with now, so this does give staff the delegated authority and the legislation we needed,” said chief administrative officer (CAO) Sandra Clancy.
“It doesn’t mean anything is going to happen tomorrow; it means people need to be advised that they’re now not in compliance.”
The bylaws come after the Warming Room shelter shut its doors in Peterborough on Canada Day and dozens of people began setting up tents on city property and in Victoria Park, which is owned by Peterborough County.
Section 12 of the new parks and facilities bylaw states: “No person in a park without a permit can erect or be within a structure, hut or tent.”
Regular park use is also not permitted between 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., and permits are required to host events. The time was changed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. following a motion from Coun. Kim Zippell.
The bylaw applies to the city’s 108 parks.
However, the bylaw includes a new provision that the CAO can allow tents in parks if there aren’t enough shelter beds available.
“It does not give restrictions for a lot of the activities in the parks anymore than we currently have as far as people using the park for recreation, walking through the park, taking the dog for a walk, all of those things,” said Clancy.
Coun. Andrew Beamer wanted the provision removed, but his motion failed to receive support.
Some people who attended the meeting were critical of council passing the bylaw changes.
“I am thoroughly disgusted with this report and can’t believe it’s been written by workers of the city,” said former city councillor Lynn Hopkins.
The city did provide shelter beds at the Peterborough Public Library but staff report they have seen sporadic use. The number of people tenting on municipal properties suddenly jumped on Canada Day following the closure of the Warming Room homeless shelter.
Peterborough County council is scheduled to vote on a similar bylaw for its properties during its Wednesday meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m.
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