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One camping ticket given out by the District of Squamish this summer

The District fielded 89 complaints regarding camping or vehicle dwelling and made 464 ‘educational contacts’
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Vehicle dwellers parked in a residential area, something that is not allowed under the current Squamish bylaw (if they stay for an extended period).

Only one ticket was issued during the first summer season of the municipality’s controversial new restricted camping bylaw.

The bylaw has drawn criticism from many people saying it criminalizes vulnerable people who have been forced to sleep outside or in their vehicles.

However, it has been lauded by people who say that vanlifers have gone too far, with unruly tourists sleeping in their vehicles, making noise, and leaving litter and human waste in their wake.

The District promised it would temper its response by prioritizing an educational approach to enforcing the bylaw, and use ticketing only as a method of last resort.

The results of that promise were displayed during council’s meeting on Nov. 2.

“We had over 400 educational contacts that were made by our community patrol officers while on patrol,” said Dan Pagely, acting general manager of community services.

“This was primarily around building awareness, which led to compliance and overall improved social cohesion. Again, this measured approach seemed to yield positive results. At the end of the day, we issued one ticket for non-compliance. This was an individual that had a number of opportunities that we educated them on, and that was not working.”

Overall, there were 89 complaints in relation to the new camping bylaw between May 21 and Sept. 6.

This made up 17% of all the complaints fielded by the municipality, which include noise, parking, dogs, wildlife attractants and more.

Of those 89 complaints, most of them involved people sleeping in vehicles. Other issues highlighted by complainants included garbage and human waste connected to temporary shelters or illegal camping. There were also complaints regarding crowded parking areas.

Noise and campfires were generally not issues of concern.

Downtown was the hotspot, with the majority of camping and sleeping in vehicles reported there.

Coun. Chris Pettingill asked whether the vast majority of problems were associated with visitors, which is what staff implied when this bylaw was first proposed to council.

Stephanie Brown, visitor management co-ordinator, said that with respect to enforcement, people were not categorized as local or non-local.

She did note, however, that licence plates were recorded and that examining that information could reveal where those people may live.

“At the time, in real-time, we were not distinguishing between someone who was passing through or someone who might be staying for a longer period,” Brown said.

Pettingill said he hoped that information would be captured in the future, as municipal staff had told council the intent of the law was to police troublesome visitors.

Coun. Jenna Stoner wondered if each of the 89 complainants were unique individuals or whether there were a small number of repeat complainers who called in the majority of the complaints.

Brown said it appeared as if there was one person who made a number of complaints to bylaw.

“But for the most part, those 89, I got the impression that perhaps there were, I would say, two or three who made multiple — by multiple I mean two maybe three — complaints. But overall they were unique,” she said.

Staff are proposing that elected officials make permanent the two community patrol officers who were hired this year to enforce the bylaw.

This year, the officers’ salaries were paid with a special grant from the province, which will dry up in 2022.

District staff say that it will cost the municipality $150,600 to make the officers permanent staffers next year.

“Community patrol officers undertake proactive patrols in the community that help to clarify expectations and to increase levels of social cohesion in the community by mediating conflict,” reads a staff report. “Without appropriate staffing levels, this cohesion is at risk.”

Staff are also asking council to consider setting aside $19,000 for additional seasonal portable toilets and $24,000 for a seasonal visitor management co-ordinator.

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