The Vancouver City Council may decriminalize the city’s unlawful camping ordinance. The current ordinance making it illegal to camp in public between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. is a misdemeanor but could be demoted to a civil infraction.Since infractions are punishable by fines — and most homeless people would not be able to pay such a fine — the councilors discussed during a city council workshop Monday whether there are alternative penalties for camping outside of lawful hours.“Is there community service? Is there any other way of putting something in there that’s not just financial?” said Councilor Jack Burkman.Next month, the city attorney’s office will present a couple of options to councilors.Revising the unlawful camping ordinance was last debated during an April 24 workshop in which advocates for the homeless urged the council to extend lawful camping hours to give people more time to sleep and to set up and break down their camps. However, at Monday’s city council workshop, none of the councilors were inclined to change the hours. Another idea that councilors knocked down was having ordinance violators prove there was no available shelter space when they were cited.Chad Eiken, the city’s director of community and economic development, said a big barrier for people is that they can’t carry all of their possessions with them. Same as the camping ordinance, people cannot store belongings in public between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m.Eiken said a group that meets monthly to address Vancouver’s homelessness issues talked in depth about how to provide open-air storage lockers. The city is looking at how other cities have implemented storage facilities. How they are accessed, where they’re placed and how to connect people who use them to other services are some details to consider.
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