Peterborough County passes parks bylaws to prohibit camping at Victoria Park

It's been 44 days since tents started going up at Victoria Park. And now, Peterborough County, which owns the park, has the tools to eventually move the campers out. But, that doesn't appear to be anytime soon. Mark Giunta reports.

It’s been 44 days since tents started going up at Peterborough County-owned Victoria Park.

The campers moved to the park after the warming room shelter closed on July 1.

At its special council meeting on Wednesday, council unanimously approved two new bylaws to prohibit camping in its two parks within the city limits – Victoria Park and Heritage Jail Park.

“All the county is trying to do is to return our Victoria Park to its natural state so everyone can enjoy it,” said J. Murray Jones, county warden.  “Before that happens, we want to make sure all the campers and those in need are looked after.”

READ MORE: Peterborough city council passes bylaws to curb tenting at municipal parks

“Our first priority was to always work with the city to provide the services that need to be provided to those in the park,” said Sheridan Graham, the county’s director of corporate projects and services. “The bylaw today is a municipal tool to ensure public safety. Again, the priority is always to work with and understand what the reasons are and what we can do as a society at all levels to assist.”

In approving the two bylaws, the county is following the city’s lead.

On Monday night, after a heated exchange that saw residents staying at tent city address councillors over their possible eviction, council passed two bylaws to prohibit camping in its municipal parks without permits.

The bylaws now allow Peterborough police to evict campers, but they haven’t been given the go-ahead because there is no solution to the homelessness issue.

“My impression is no, it’s going to be a gradual progression for people to go elsewhere. We have no intention to go in there with a SWAT team and get rid of them,” added Jones.

WATCH: Tensions mount over new Peterborough parks bylaw that prohibits camping without a permit

According to Jones, there was never any thought of handing over ownership of the park to the city to deal with the issue.

Peterborough County does not have a contract with the OPP to patrol and enforce the bylaw at the park.

It will defer enforcement to the city.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Jones and Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien issued the following joint statement about the parks and facilities bylaws which include prohibiting camping in city parks and Victoria Park without a permit.

“While compliance with the bylaws is expected, both the City and County are committed to working with people who are homeless and living in the rough to connect them with shelter and housing,” the statement reads.

“People who are homeless and living in tents in parks need to engage with social services workers to get on the by-name list for housing services – a list that identifies specific housing needs and desires for each person to help connect people with housing. Social Services can be contacted at 705-748-8830 or in-person at 178 Charlotte St. Outreach workers will also be in Victoria Park from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, starting on Aug. 15.

“There are shelter beds available among the 110 beds in the shelter system. Social Services and community partner agencies, such as Fourcast, help on average 15 people a month who are homeless with getting into housing. People are strongly encouraged to move indoors through the shelter system and overflow beds. The purpose of the by-laws respecting parks and related facilities is to ensure that parks in the City and County are safe and accessible to all.”

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