It might not seem like the most comfortable place to rest your head, but for some people who make up Kelowna’s homeless population, setting up a makeshift bed on the sidewalk may be the easiest option some nights.

You might be wondering if this is legal, and it, in fact, is not.

Lance Kayfish, risk manager with Kelowna city bylaw, said there are no bylaws that specifically apply to homeless people, but there are traffic bylaws that restrict people from blocking sidewalks or roadways.

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“So when someone is sleeping on the sidewalk or has a shopping cart blocking people's path, tickets will sometimes be issued,” Kayfish explained.

Because most city parks are closed at 11 p.m., camping overnight is not allowed either.

"We have security that patrols most city parks and they will ask them to leave."

If an individual is fined but cannot pay, that’s when court conditions are often imposed.

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RCMP and bylaw officers work in conjunction in some cases, and sometimes, people are just given a warning.

"Just like a speeding ticket isn't issued every time somebody in the community speeds, not every single offense is caught and ticketed for,” Kayfish said.

For “repeated offenders” who build up a certain record, law enforcement officers document their infractions, whether they refer to bylaws or RCMP offenses, and can apply to the courts.

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B.C. courts judge have the ability to restrict a person from accessing what’s known as the ‘red zone’ of the city.

The red zone, or the downtown core, is often thought of as a hotbed for crime and bad behavior, but many important services are also in the area. Kayfish said red zone restrictions can provide for conditions, allowing people to go downtown to visit the Kelowna Gospel Mission or attend counselling and medical appointments, but they have to leave immediately after.

For businesses who see people camped out on their doorstep frequently, it’s up to them to deal with the situation because city bylaws only apply to city property. KelownaNow will be talking to some of those businesses in our next feature on the issue.

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"So sometimes we have circumstances where a certain part of the frontage of the business or an alcove, say the doorway to the business, is technically private property, in which case it's up to the business owner, the private property owner, to address those security concerns on their private property,” Kayfish explained. “Bylaw and the RCMP will work together with them when they can but our bylaws don't apply to that private property.”

There are also bylaws that restrict where you can panhandle, for instance, you can't be near a bank or ATM or on a median.

Drinking and drug use is prohibited in city parks, and so is possessing drug paraphernalia.

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Kayfish said he likes to remind people that parks and public spaces, like sidewalks, are there for the entire community. Therefore, if people aren’t breaking the law, they are allowed to be there.

"Sometimes they are utilized by people without a home as a place to rest, but what we always try to do is work with our own bylaw services staff and the RCMP, the other outreach services through mental health--which is often a related set of issues--and Interior Health Authority, to provide whatever support and services we can.”

Joint Bylaw Services and the RCMP bike patrol team work in the downtown core of the city.

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“They really try to be compassionate, and that’s what I don’t think people often see is the amount of compassion and understanding that goes into working with some of the people who are homeless in our community by the Bylaw Services staff and the RCMP,” said Kayfish.

When they pass by someone who is homeless, Kayfish said they take the time to ask them how they are, make sure they have food and any services they may need, including help for addiction issues and mental health issues related to their homelessness.

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"They know them all by name. I think that's pretty inspiring actually to see that compassion side of it.”

KelownaNow is working on an in-depth series on homelessness in the downtown core. If you would like to get involved, contact our newsroom or comment below on what you think should be done.

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