Surrey staff is bringing forward “simplified” bylaw amendments to deal with people sleeping overnight in RVs and campers.
Staff is recommending that council approve proposed amendments to the city’s Highway and Traffic Bylaw that restricts “the parking and occupying of ‘Large Vehicles,’ including campers and recreational vehicles, on highways.”
In a report for Monday’s (Nov. 4) council meeting, it states the report is meant to provide clarity around the proposed amendments.
The current bylaw, according to the report, allows “large vehicles,” such as RVs and campers, to park on city roads for a maximum of 72 hours continuously with no restrictions.
Staff is recommending that council approve amendments that have been “simplified” to prohibit the vehicles from parking for more than 24 hours continuously and to prohibit them from being used as a dwelling unit or place to sleep while parked.
The report states that the amendments will allow for people to be parked on city roads for a limited amount of time, while ensuring the city “can effectively deal with complaints.”
So far in 2019, the city has received a total of 27 complaints of RVs or campers parking on city streets, and six of those were in regard to the same vehicle.
Of the 27 complaints, in 15 of those, the occupants and the vehicle had left the area before a bylaw officer could arrive; in 10 complaints, a bylaw officer met with the occupant of the vehicle and they voluntarily complied; and in two cases, a bylaw officer issued a ticket.
During the last council meeting, councillors voiced concerns surrounding the impact the decision would have on vulnerable populations in the city amid an already stressed housing market.
The Nov. 4 report states that staff has “encountered a limited number of homeless individuals” parked on city streets in RVs or campers.
“These individuals are not representative of homeless residents that staff typically encounter, the key difference being the type of shelter used and the fact that, in most cases, these individuals have the means to own, insure, and operate a licensed Large Vehicle in functional operational condition,” the report reads.
However in the few times staff has encountered people in the vehicles “who identified themselves as homeless,” the report states staff has worked with the people to “determine what resources they would most benefit from and to connect them to social service agencies that can support their specific needs, including housing opportunities at the various shelters or RV facilities across the City.”
At the Oct. 21 meeting, staff had presented council with bylaw amendments that would make it illegal to occupy a motorhome or RV on Surrey roads between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. It would also prohibit such vehicles from parking for more than three hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. adjacent to public parks, schools, churches or homes, and the vehicles could not be occupied while parked there.
The proposal materialized less than a month after the Now-Leader published an in-depth article on the subject, highlighting current resident frustrations as well as the perspective of a man who currently chooses to live in his motorhome in Surrey.
Councillor Brenda Locke was the first to speak against proposed bylaw amendments at Monday night’s council meeting, saying the issue “seems to be a symptom of the larger problem, which is homelessness and our housing crisis.”
Locke noted Surrey has one of the worst vacancy rates in the Lower Mainland, at 0.4 per cent, and questioned “the ultimate actions” that would come if the proposal was approved in its current form.
“We have such limited affordable housing, we have zero supportive housing, we have zero shelter housing, and we know this year when it comes to emergency weather housing, we’re going to be challenged by that. This corporate report in my mind is punitive to people in need and unhoused residents in the City of Surrey,” she stressed to her colleagues.
Surrey First Councillor Linda Annis agreed, as did independent Councillor Steven Pettigrew.
Pettigrew suggested a “specialized” approach for various neighbourhoods “rather than a blanket approach across the city.”
Pettigrew also expressed his concern that the move would penalize people with RVs who are not homeless, such as residents who just need to work on their RV outside.
“We’re going to be sending the message that Surrey’s not open for RV business,” he said.
Independent Councillor Jack Hundial said the city isn’t seeing a large spike in this behaviour, noting the city received 27 complaints in 2017 which dropped to 15 in 2018 and so far this year, the city has had 33 complaints, amounting to 75.
Doug Elford was the lone councillor who supported the proposal in its current form.
Elford noted in his previous work as a Vancouver environmental officer, he was in charge of the recreational vehicle file and said this updated bylaw would bring Surrey “up to Vancouver standards.”
Elford said he saw “huge” and “measurable” environmental impacts in Vancouver when RV clusters would establish, pointing to sewage impacts and the use of diesel generators.
“Right now it’s very difficult to address these issues and deal with them (in Surrey),” said Elford. “Now my expectation of bylaws is to be empathetic and to entertain discretion when enforcing these bylaws but we need the tools in the toolbox to deal with the problematic circumstances that may arise occasionally.”
Mayor Doug McCallum, meantime, expressed concern about what he described as an “escalating” issue in Surrey.
According to McCallum, the issue of homeless residents sleeping in vehicles has popped up in Crescent Beach.
The mayor said where he walks in the morning he witnessed people sleeping inside one vehicle in the parking lot, then “a couple of days later there was 10 vehicles parked in the parking lot with a whole bunch of people.”
“Then a few days or a week later, there was a lot more than that,” he remarked. “And the community down there got in arms because these people just left in the morning and there was garbage everywhere.”
– with files from Amy Reid