The Vancouver City Council unanimously approved changes to city code Monday that will allow city staff to remove homeless encampments in areas prone to wildfire, including along Burnt Bridge Creek.
A second reading and public hearing for the ordinance is scheduled for July 18.
One proposed amendment changes the name of Chapter 8.22 of the city code from “Camping” to “Outside Habitation and Camping” to better reflect the chapter’s contents, which are primarily focused on individuals experiencing homelessness. Another amendment designates additional areas as “Camping and Outside Habitation Impact Areas,” meaning city staff can remove additional encampments throughout the city.
In September 2021, the council approved amendments to Chapter 8.22 to support the establishment of the Safe Stay Communities by specifying times when it is unlawful to camp or occupy camping facilities in publicly owned places. Now, city staff are suggesting additional amendments to further address the broader impacts of homelessness.
“One issue of great concern to both individuals experiencing homelessness and the greater Vancouver community is the danger posed by fire,” wrote City Manager Eric Holmes in a staff report.
The Vancouver Fire Department has experienced a nearly 600 percent increase in the number of fires ignited outside since 2016, according to Holmes.
“The Burnt Bridge Creek drainage is particularly vulnerable to a dangerous wildfire event,” Holmes wrote. “Heavy vegetation, limited access and limited water supply with residences in proximity, all contributes to a potentially serious wildfire condition that could endanger life and property. The steep slopes coupled with the usual afternoon onshore winds, has the potential to allow an uncontrolled wildfire to not only threaten the lives of anyone recreating or residing in the canyon, but could also damage or destroy homes adjacent to the Burnt Bridge Creek trail system.”
To reduce fire risk, Vancouver’s Homeless Assistance and Resources Team will engage with individuals experiencing homelessness throughout the city, including within the Burnt Bridge Creek area. The team will monitor unsanctioned encampments for health and safety issues and begin removing encampments within designated “fire impact areas,” which are outlined in the ordinance.
“It is apparent that expanding the areas in which camping and outside habitation is prohibited 24 hours daily to include areas that are particularly vulnerable to a dangerous wildfire event will increase public health and safety, benefiting both individuals experiencing homelessness and the greater Vancouver community,” according to the ordinance.