Dear council members,
My name is Thomasina Pidgeon. I have been a Squamish resident for some 20 years. Myself and other concerned Squamish residents have initiated the petition to have the bylaw amended. If you have not yet seen or read the petition in its entirety, I have listed the many reasons for opposition below. As of right now, we have close to 2500 signatures. Here is the LINK. Please have a read of the many thoughtful comments from residents, local business owners, and visitors alike. I will print and present these to council.
During this campaign i have been called freeloader, insane, bum, to illegal resident. Some even said that my child shouldn’t be registered in school here because we do not pay property tax. The only reason I tell you this is to show the amount of prejudice that exists in this community towards vehicles or tents dwellers. A person’s value is not and should not be related to their property tax value.
Contrary to these comments, I am not a free-loader. I am a contributing member to the community of Squamish. I live here because it allows me to I push myself in the sport of climbing in its entirety, including competing for team Canada at the World Cup level. I have coached your children in gymnastics, supported many businesses through memberships, storage rentals, general food and commerce. I have rented on occasion. Many of my expenses help cover someones property tax. I have spent an enormous amount of time volunteering for environmental issues, my daughters school, the bouldering cooperative in town, to sharing climbing with at risk youth who may not otherwise have the opportunity. I have protested alongside some of you, and against some of you. Vandwellers like me, live and work in this community and have helped create this “Hardwired for Adventure” town. I also VOTE. My point is, the prejudice and stigma associated with van-dwellers is NOT accurate. Van-dwellers and wild campers are not an environmental and social risk. In fact, the one and only reason why I did not vote for Karen Elliott was because this issue was highlighted on her campaign platform.
Squamish is home to many people who have at some point, lived or camped in a vehicle or tent. The support for this petition shows that people care about fundamental human rights: life, liberty and security, and the Right to Roam. Some also see this bylaw is an indicator of the insane direction that Squamish is going. Ie: are we a outdoor capital, or are we cleaning it up to sell more property? The media press has helped send a message to that “small minority of irresponsible campers” showing that their actions affect others which is excellent. Education is power.
I strongly oppose and reject By-law NO. 2679. While I acknowledge that there is a problem with wild campers, By-law 2679 is worded to directly target anyone who sleeps in a vehicle or tent. It does not target the problematic behaviour of irresponsible campers. This blanket ban will have unintended negative consequences for many. The by-law is open to discretion and potential prejudice. It is essentially robbing those people that live and reside in their vehicles or tents, the base for their home. Part of the problem is that the District views sleeping in your vehicle as camping which isn't the case. Our vans are simply a home on wheels.
I request that this bylaw be deferred until further public consultation takes place.
I also request that the text of the by-law be amended so the focus is on behaviour, not people.
I also ask for you to please consider some solutions as below to deal with unresolved issues.
Approving a by-law that outlaws sleeping in your vehicle is an affront to anyone interested in maintaining basic human rights encompassed within Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Being poor or having the capability to equip a vehicle for living should not be unlawful. This by-law is the opposite of what “Hardwired for Adventure” stands for. Municipalities must accommodate homeless people when there is insufficient shelter and housing which is the case in Squamish. At minimum, courts recommend that bylaws should permit overnight camping and sheltering on more than a overnight basis. Sleeping in a vehicle or tent is OUR right. I believe Pivotal Legal has or is sending you a letter on our behalf.
I have felt the impact of this 'crackdown' for some years. Our to-go safe locations have slowly been replaced with ‘no camping’ signs and stand empty at night or have been taken over by gentrification or future developments. These closures have diminished our options, forcing people to concentration, or camp in front of no camping signs. Gentrification and rising property tax have been driving out long time Squamish residents. This by-law is merely the next step to furthering the gap.
It was mentioned that the exempt area had to be far enough that it didn’t impact neighbourhoods, yet 10km down a dirt road that requires 4x4 is far fetched. I don't own a 4x4. There is no toilet which doesn’t solve the human waste issue, and it is a area where firearm use is known to occur and thus unsafe. More, the driving alone would quadruple my daily driving. This will increase my carbon footprint and goes against protecting the environment.
Regardless, why would we have to be hidden from the community when we are in fact, part of the community? Why do we have to be shunned away as if we are the deliricts of society? We are not an eyesore, unlike the gentrification and developments happening in this town.
Yesterday I asked a local homeless Squamish nation man where he slept. He said “in between Helping Hands and in a tent outside but I stay well hidden”. Why does this man have to HIDE on his own territory?
This by-law outlaws me from sleeping in my home within the town that I call home unless I drive far from public view or pay campground fees which would take most of my pay cheques. Everything about this bylaw is inhumane, unsustainable and unrealistic for many reasons.
Mayor Elliot said in a recent CBC interview that people choose to live in their vehicles, but she made absolutely NO emphasis on people's NEED to live in a vehicle. If a subpopulation of Squamish residents can make living in Squamish sustainable for us, why should that be problematic and outlawed? Is this bylaw merely a money grab? Why hide campers and stigmatize us as irresponsible when the majority of us are not? Elliot said it herself, it’s a small minority that are the problem. It doesn’t matter if the intention is for a minority - this isn’t the only audience it is reaching. This bylaw affects everyone, and I fear, sets a precedent for more restricting bylaws down the road. Mentally knowing that we could be woken up, or approached by bylaw officers or RCMP, at night or in the morning is social stress. The majority of us are doing no harm. We need to find a way to accept everyone, without hiding them.
My lifestyle of van-dwelling encourages a strong connection to place. It exposes me to different experiences unlike that of staying in a hotel or campground. Consider this from a tourist aspect. I am less inclined to visit areas with similar bylaws. When my daughter and I are peacefully sleeping and abruptly woken and told to relocate, I feel unwelcome in the town I have called home for 20 years! It is stressful to live with the fear of being kicked out of a parking space that otherwise is unused.
It is mentioned that the by-law will only be enforced during the busy season, but last year on a rainy Monday evening in November, we were kicked out of the MFSR by the RCMP. I counted 7-10 vehicles leaving which I wouldn't consider peak season, nor "littered with vans". Just this week we were approached and told not to camp where we were. I told her we were behaving and not leaving garbage and she said: "It isn't about leaving the garbage, it's about where you can camp or can not camp." She also directed me to social services. When I said i am self-sufficient, her response was, 'well, you can't be self-sufficient if you live in a van.' Really?
The proposed by-law directly punishes both resident and visitor. More importantly, it:
- is based on stereotypes and prejudice
- punishes both adverse socio-economic circumstances and peoples need or choice to live in vehicles
- opens the door for prejudice from both by-law enforcers and the public
- infringes on basic human freedom, rights, liberty and security
- makes no differentiation between wild-camping and van-dwelling
- will negatively impact the quality of lives and independence of those who live in vehicles
This by-law was created to address complaints from residents fed up with the negative impact on wild spaces (myself included!) - environmental, as well as those uncomfortable with people who live in their vehicles - social. People who do not practice Leave No Trace should be reprimanded. We need stricter rules and fines for dumpers and ill behaviour, not a blanket ban on sleeping in a vehicle or tent! As well, no by-law should cater to complaints that stem from prejudice. As well, are these complaints registered somewhere? I request to see the statistics of these complaints.
As for the environment,
Repeatedly, the DoS refers to van dwelling and wild camping as an ‘environmental risk’. The fact is, my lifestyle is a far more ecological responsible lifestyle choice than any household or development that this town encompasses (see facts below). We consume less, we use less, we take less. This also means we buy less which perhaps is the real problem. But if we as individuals are going to talk REAL climate action, the choice is obvious. 12 years…
Van-dwelling is on par with my choice to lead a more economical, ecological, sustainable and minimalist lifestyle. It uses far fewer resources than typical houses and is within my economic means. In my case, less is more. Regardless, I could NOT afford rental prices in Squamish nor to stay at a campground full time. Van-living is my happy, sustainable medium between living within my economic means, without burdening the system with the use of welfare and social housing which Squamish also lacks.
In terms of impact on wildlife, the last time I saw a bear near my van was over 14 years ago. The last time I saw a bear near a residential area? This year, last year, the year before... How many bear and wildlife sightings are reported in residential areas? Households and irresponsible people who do not lock their garbage bins are far more of a problem than that small minority of irresponsible campers! The hundreds of developments that have been encroaching into bear and cougar habitat, such as Crumpit Woods, Seven peaks, Ravenswood, Skyridge, University Highlands Phase 2, Garibaldi Springs, Cheekeye Fan, GAS, Seven Peaks, Soleil Coastal, Legacy Ridge, the list goes on. These developments are far more detrimental to the environment than that ‘small minority of irresponsible campers’ whom could be addressed through education and other progressive ways. This blanket ban is merely inhuman.
I find it hard that this bylaw is about the meagre amount of garbage left from a small minority of wild campers. I am not saying that garbage is ok, I am just don’t believe that is the “real” issue. I feel this bylaw is about continuing the trajectory of unsustainable development and gentrification that is going on in this town. If we are going to talk about environment and climate action, the damage from a few irresponsible wild campers, and the lifestyle of those like mine, is a very weak argument given the amount of consumption and thoughtless development happening in this town. We are at the point where society on a whole, needs to change drastically, and van-dwelling is a viable solution for many.
So lets ask:
Is Squamish a financial opportunity for real estate developers, a mere bedroom community for Vancouver, developers and gentrification.
Is Squamish our Recreational Capital, our rugged outdoor community, full of people from every background and social status, where everyone has the right to pitch a tent or sleep in a vehicle, whether out of NEED or CHOICE.
The land we stand on belongs to noone and everyone. There are plenty of lots around Squamish which go unused at night which would be suitable for a Permit Based System such as the Smoke Bluffs, Brennan Park, Nexen, random lots around town and yes, near neighbourhoods! These many large and small locations could serve the different needs of many visitors and residents.
Imagine - a place without borders, that welcomes everyone, while educating them on Leave No Trace standards. It would immediately start with the removal of no camping signs and working towards legislating the Right to Roam, aka, Everyman's Right, so every man, woman and child has the right to camp on any public, crown and private land, so long as it is further than 250 meters from any households, composting toilets are installed, and they practice Leave No Trace. ‘Everyman's Right’ is a protected under the law in many forward thinking countries such as Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand. It makes a visitors experience vastly different to sleeping in a hotel! The forging of connection with place…
Living nomadically has always been in my blood. It keeps me sane. I tried living in a house and was a depressed mess. To stifle a person's lifestyle whos very blood is fueled with the need to move, is to me, akin to forcing us into a modern day reservation camp. The Right to Roam breathes the very essence of our anthem, “This Land is Our land”.
As a climber, I am disappointed in the ‘cautious support’ that the SAS has shown for this bylaw. While I understand the impact of irresponsible campers, supporting a by-law that outlaws sleeping in your vehicle for those with social-economic challenges and alternative lifestyles is a slap to the face to decades of climbing culture. This is not a climbers issue, but a human behaviour issue. The garbage, prejudice and gentrification is not unique to Squamish. We need education, not this bylaw.
We have a chance here to support education, those financially challenged, alternative lifestyles, climate action, and address the issues caused by irresponsible campers. Implementing some of these solutions is a far more welcoming and forward way of thinking. This by-law simply removes civil liberties without teaching anything. By saying no to this by-law and seeking alternatives like educating, we work to make this world a better and more inclusive place.
Potential solutions include:
- Amend the by-law text so it directly targets problematic behaviour such as garbage and human waste, rather than a blanket ban on sleeping in a vehicle. For example, Vancouver’s By-law NO. 12062 targets inappropriate behaviour, like public defecation.
- implement a “Right to Roam” law as found in much of Europe, - in some places the “Right to Roam” is considered essential and basic, and in others they’re protected by law. The Right to Roam/ Everymans Right” policy is found in Norway, Scotland, Switzerland, Estonia, Sweden and more. This RIght to Roam, is permissible only under certain conditions. Ie: they must practice Leave No Trace, keep at least 150 metres away from the nearest inhabited house or cabin. Places for emptying toilets are signposted, doing so elsewhere is strictly prohibited. The Right to Roam allows visitors to forge a connection with the people and the surrounding nature. Rather than hole up in a hotel room, it encourages conversations with locals when asking about where to camp or eat, which usually leads to deeper discussions
- implement a long term solution for Squamish resident vehicle dwellers such as a permit based system that could encompasses many locations for vehicle-dwellers to stay safely at night under certain conditions ie: Leave No Trace training (free online, and DoS could become a partner organization) and potentially a small fee representing the size of the property to cover public facilities. We can look to Canmore for a good example of trying a solution that does not include hiding certain people from town residents. While I see this as a good solution for the many visitors, the RIght to Roam, should still apply so to accomodate for an individual's liberty and capability.
- increase the amount of designated overnight parking areas for the homeless, vehicle dwellers, and RV’s
- invest in composting toilets in hotspots, and public places rather than relocate the issue
- establish a robust system of reporting dumping as a community to appropriately penalize offenders
- enforcement and harsher fines for those that dump waste, garbage, and inflict any negative environmental impact OUTSIDE the vehicle
- Leave No Trace signage for education. Ie: At the Apron trail, there is NO Leave No Trace Guidelines. I initiated a LNT poster alongside Friends of Stawamus two years ago. It remains in the boulders, but is gone from the Chief’s hike main entrance and the Apron lot. I contacted Parks numerous times to further this and received NO response.
- leave No Trace certification, which allows people to camp, and rewards positive practices such as they have in New Zealand that allows RIght to Roam under certain conditions.
Other concerns with this by-law in more detail:
- The DoS says they will not penalize people who are living outdoors due to economic hardships, mental health and addiction issues, yet this by-law opens the door to prejudice or discriminatory enforcement. Similar by-laws have been overturned in the Federal Courts and in several US cities as being unconstitutional.
- Do by-law officers have the training and capabilities to distinguish between what is good mental health versus unstable?
- Do by-law enforcement officers has the right to our personal economic situation? What tax bracket distinguishes one from having economic barriers, to being able to afford a campground, to a rental, etc. I could not afford the rental rates in Squamish, nor a long term campground, yet I have no addiction or mental issues.
- This by-law makes no distinguishment between wild camping and van-camping.
- Wild camping is staying overnight in a structure other than ones permanent home, ie: a tent.
- vehicle-camping means sleeping in a vehicle. Vehicles can contain a bed, stove, kitchen, heater, toilet, shower, fridge, solar power, garbage can, etc. Van-living is part of a counter-culture of people that want to live a minimalist, eco-friendly style. Van dwellers bring a lot of money to the towns they visit and live in. There is a long history of van dwelling in Squamish which has helped brand Squamish as the outdoor recreational capital of Canada.
- This by-law makes no distinction between visitor and resident.
- According to Statscan, Squamish currently has 320 residents who live in a moveable dwelling. This number does not account for those with no fixed address, who use alternative addresses, or who are not registered.
- Squamish has roughly 200 homeless, while the new shelter will have 50 beds, up from the current 15. However, how many more are unaccounted and live in vehicles? The District does not have an accurate record of the number of residents who live in vehicles. How will the by-law impact these people and the shelters? How will they be differentiated?
- Is it recognized that Squamish household residents dump along the MFSR etc?
- The by-law states that van-camping is a environmental risk to sensitive habitat and social hazard, yet they provide no concrete evidence but a stereotyping assumption. They put one photo of garbage and one of a van next to each other, and say ‘This is typical garbage once a vandweller leaves an area’. This stigma by the district is shameful. The carbon footprint and energy use of a van-dweller shrinks in comparison to that of a house-dweller.
- this by-law states that van-campers pose a risk to riparian areas yet, they provide no studies to prove the environmental impact from parking on a dirt road or parking lot
- van life uses far less resources and has a much lower carbon footprint than the average household
- average residential water use for a van dweller: 10 litres per day (personal)
- average residential water use in British Columbia: 312 litres per capita daily
- average monthly electricity use (personal - 10 pound propane tank, no solar) = 64 kWh
- average monthly electricity consumptions for a residential house = 900 kWh
- average km of daily driving for a homeowner: unknown but over 90% of Squamish residents drive to work by either car, van or truck, and many work in Whistler or Vancouver.
- average km of daily driving for myself: 12 km a day (This would quadruple if I drove to one of the exempt zones)
- my lifestyle includes recycling, composting and has little food and waste in general because of minimal storage space, and lifestyle choices
- I know of no van-camper who openly defecates in the woods. We choose responsibility and use portable camping toilets, or walk/drive to the nearest facility.
- The number of bears that come to houses and neighbourhoods compared to what I have seen in my van would be a very interesting number to compare.
- Affordable Housing Crisis: I would like to add more to this but simply did not have the time. The District estimates 40 residents live in vehicles year round. However, the Vehicle Residents of Squamish (VRS) estimate much more, closer to 250.
On top of that, Helping Hands was not aware of this bylaw, nor were they contacted. There are many displaced locals living in vehicles due to the affordability crisis, rising rent costs, being outbidded by city folks. These unaccounted numbers can not go ignored. Squamish has a HUGE affordable housing crisis that has forced many residents to unwillingly live in vehicles. Ideally, only 30% of our incomes should be going to rent. However, virtually everyone I know lives in “Core Housing” where they pay more than 30% of their pre-tax income or live in crowded situations, or in houses that need major repairs. So many working professionals here are forced to work two jobs and have little time with their families just so they can make rent. How does this housing crisis contribute to people's quality of lives?
- Affordable housing stats for 2005:
- 77 non-market family housing which was difficult to find even then.
- Market housing prices for 2005:
- Studio: $475. One bedroom: $629.Two bedroom: 821. Three bedroom: 1086.
- Affordable Housing stats for 2019:
- One bedroom “affordable” costs $1,038 . THIS WOULD BE MORE THAN MY MONTHLY INCOME.
- Market housing prices for 2019 - 1 bedroom, $1600.
Finally, in conclusion,
I request that the bylaw be deferred until further public consultation has taken place. The district is trying to reassure us that it will only apply to problematic behavior but we can not live off word of mouth, nor how future councils may enforce.
Therefore, I ask that the text be amended to directly target the problematic behaviour, not people who live in tents or vehicles out of need or necessity. Accordingly, the law is on our side here. I fear this bylaw will sets precedents for future bad bylaws. It also goes against the courts recommendations and basic human freedoms and rights.
I also request that we immediately work on implementing a Right To Roam legislation as found in New Zealand that is welcoming for all. This would start with the immediate removal of current no camping signs found on our public, unceded territory, as well as a Permit Based system, and safe locations for vehicles dwellers to go.
Again, this bylaw is about more than garbage. It is about basic human rights and liberties.
If you made it this far, Thank you so much for making it to the very end. I realize it is long. I hope you will seriously take my thoughts and ideas into serious consideration. Please contact me if you would like to further discuss.