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Squamish council to explore vehicle residency during 2024 strategic plan review

Vehicle Residents of Squamish share permit system and safe lots as vehicle residency solutions. Council opts to discuss at next strategic plan review in 2024.
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Squamish council members have decided to revisit the possibility of vehicle residency in 2024, with no guarantees things will change one way or the other.

On Nov. 14, at a committee of the whole meeting, council listened to a presentation by two representatives from the Vehicle Residents of Squamish Advocacy Group. The two representatives, Thomasina Pidgeon and Rufio West, shared a variety of methods other communities have taken that support residents who live in their vehicles.

Ultimately, council members unanimously voted to refer the topic to the next strategic plan review, which should take place within the first few months of 2024.

This topic has been hotly debated over the last few years.

In the past, the group has appealed to council to allow vehicle residency both before and after the District adopted a bylaw in 2021 that outlawed camping in municipal parks, roadways, and crown land within the municipality. An exception to the bylaw includes temporary one-night shelters for those experiencing homelessness with stipulations on where these can be put for a night.

The District posted to its website that the intent of the bylaw was to “mitigate social and environmental impacts resulting from the high density of ‘wild’ campers by encouraging camping in designated campgrounds, or dispersed on crown land beyond the District of Squamish boundaries.”

At the Nov. 14 meeting, however, Pidgeon added that “stigma” and “othering” are associated with the bylaw.

“We need inclusive policies for everybody,” she said.

Pidgeon and West shared examples of a permit system and safe lots as methods for vehicle residency, which have been used in municipalities in the U.S. in Oregon and Washington. In Canada, the Town of Canmore has tried a variety of vehicle residency tactics in the last few years, most recently the Safe Park Program.

Pidgeon said the permit system example would allow people to sleep in vehicles on public or private land with regulations. Some of the regulations given as examples were following Leave No Trace principles and a code of conduct, relocating every few days, and paying for a permit and property tax.

Another method was defining an underutilized parking lot as a safe lot, with local examples given such as the Smoke Bluffs, Brennan Park Recreation Centre or Squamish Adventure Centre parking lots. These lots would have garbage and recycling cans and outhouses, and similar regulations to the permit system could apply to those wishing to stay.

Pidgeon said a combination of these two methods would be the most effective at meeting the needs of the vehicle residents, which she said was last estimated to be about 300 in 2020.

“There's some great ideas in there that deserve more consideration,” said Mayor Armand Hurford.

Previously, the District hired a consultant to dig into the issue. A few council members said at the Nov. 14th meeting that they’d like to see the information from them despite the District no longer maintaining a working relationship with the consultant.

“I don't think that there is a perfect solution. I think that there are multiple solutions on the table. I don't think I fully understand the pros and cons to each of them,” said Coun. Jenna Stoner. “And I think, actually doing our due diligence and making sure we find something that's going to be functional for our community as a whole in the long term, takes time.”

“It's in everyone's best interest that we expedite this conversation,” said Coun. Lauren Greenlaw. 

“My biggest concern about our current vehicle residency approach or lack thereof is people being treated inequitably in our community,” she continued. “But my next biggest concern is that we have not yet seen the full impact that our inflation rates will have on our housing markets. Not only is vehicle residency a viable affordable housing option, but it's also part of a solution for the volatility of our housing market.”

About 10 representatives from the Vehicle Residents group attended the following council meeting on Nov. 21. One representative spoke to council during unscheduled public attendance and asked for council to consider putting forth a bylaw amendment in the interim that would allow vehicle residency until the 2024 discussion. In the end, council did not take the request any further, stating they did not have the power to swiftly change a bylaw in that fashion.

Review the Nov. 14 committee of the whole meeting on the District’s website for more information.

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