Canadian homeless win court fight over tent cities

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Homeless people have the right to set up temporary camps in public parks if the community cannot provide enough shelter beds, a Canadian appeals court ruled on Wednesday.

A British Columbia Court of Appeal panel upheld a lower court ruling that a ban on so-called tent cities in parks violated a homeless person’s constitutional right to security if there is not enough shelter space is available.

Poverty activists sued Victoria, British Columbia, after the city it shut down a tent city that housed about 70 people in 2005. The activists said sleeping in tents in parks was safer than having to use city sidewalks.

The city on the Pacific coast has a more temperate winter climate than the rest of Canada, and its homeless population was significantly larger than the available shelter space. The city said the ban was to protect the parks.

However, the appeals court noted the homeless did not have an unrestricted right to set up tent cities, and suggested the city could resolve the issue by addressing the lack of adequate shelter space.

British Columbia recently enacted a law that allows police to detain the homeless and transport them to shelters during extreme weather. The law has been decried as an attempt to get the poor off of Vancouver’s streets during the 2010 Winter Olympics, although the city has denied it will do that.

Reporting by Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson