Item Coversheet
Item #6.

Staff Report 132-21


Mayor and City Council


Eric Holmes, City Manager




Amendments to VMC 8.22 - Camping
Key Points
  • Revisions to Chapter 8.22 VMC “Camping” are necessary to implement a Supportive Campsite Pilot Program.
  • Supportive Campsites may include Themed Supportive Campsites in which occupancy is limited to single-occupant females or families with children.
  • Revisions to Chapter 8.22 VMC have also been proposed to mitigate the negative secondary impacts of camping. However, there are Constitutional limitations on the mitigation measures cities may implement.
  • The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that cities cannot criminalize camping in all places, at all times, unless there is adequate access to temporary shelter (Martin v. Boise). (As a corollary, cities may criminalize camping at 24 hours daily within specific locations provided these areas are limited in size so that adequate public space remains available for camping.)
  • Revisions have been proposed to VMC 8.22 to establish “Camping Impact Areas” where camping is illegal 24/7/365 while complying with applicable legal standards.

Strategic Plan Alignment


Goal 1, Objective 1.2: Ensure our infrastructure, including buildings and utilities, is safe, environmentally responsible and well maintained.


Goal 3, Objective 3.2: Improve services available to underserved or vulnerable residents.

Present Situation

Currently, the City of Vancouver’s Unlawful Camping Ordinance (Chapter 8.22 VMC) provides that it is unlawful for any person to camp or store personal property on any public land during daytime hours of 6:30 a.m. through 9:30 p.m.


Despite this Ordinance, an estimated 500-600 individuals still reside in tents or vehicles within the City of Vancouver. This Council has observed that many individuals who camp on public property do so, not by choice, but due to a lack of financial means to afford adequate shelter. These individuals are adversely mentally and physically impacted by camping. Some people hold nighttime employment and cannot reasonably be expected to sleep during the hours allowed by VMC 8.22 (9:30 p.m. through 6:30 a.m.). Single female camp occupants experience a disproportionately high incidence of violent crime as compared to other people. Families with children who camp as a result of a lack adequate shelter are also disproportionately adversely impacted through risk of physical danger and impediments to childhood education.


Simultaneously, Council has also observed that the City’s sensitive ecological areas are adversely impacted by adverse secondary impacts of camping. The City’s sensitive waterways, water treatment facilities, stormwater and wastewater facilities are particularly vulnerable to impacts of illegal dumping and improper disposal of human waste.


There are also Constitutional constraints on cities’ authority to regulate camping. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that cities cannot criminalize camping in all places, at all times, unless there is adequate access to temporary shelter (Martin v. Boise). As a corollary to this holding, cities may impose 24-hour daily prohibitions against unlawful camping “in particular locations.” However, the City Attorney’s Office has advised that these locations should be no broader than necessary and Council should ensure that adequate public space remains for nighttime camping throughout the rest of the City.


To balance these competing interests, Staff has proposed that the City revise VMC 8.22 “Camping” from a system in which camping is criminalized everywhere from 6:30a.m. to 9:30p.m., to one that seeks to address a variety of competing interests by (a) legalizing camping within Supportive Campsites, (b) prohibiting camping 24/7/365 in certain ‘camping impact areas’ to include ecologically sensitive areas, (c) allowing camping at night throughout most of the City, and (d) establishing an exemption for nighttime workers.


Accompanying this Staff Report are two ordinances for Council’s consideration (“Ordinance Option A” and “Ordinance Option B”). The only distinction between the two versions is the verbiage relating to Camping Impact Areas. Both ordinances indicate that unless occurring within a City-approved Supportive Campsite, camping shall be illegal 24/7/365 within Camping Impact Areas. However the locations of the Camping Impact Areas differ as follows:


The term “Camping Impact Areas” means:

Both Ordinances:

1000’ from Supportive Campsites;

At a public water station, wastewater or stormwater facility; and


Ordinance Option A



Ordinance Option B


Within two hundred feet (200’) of the nearest edge of the Columbia River, Vancouver Lake, Burton Channel, Peterson Channel, Fisher’s Creek, or Burnt Bridge Creek.


Upon land classified as one or more of the following:

a. Habitats of Local Importance as defined by VMC 20.740.100;

b. Riparian Buffers of Fish and Wildlife Habitat Conservation areas as defined by VMC 20.740.110;

c. Frequently Flooded Areas as defined by VMC 20.740.120; or

d. Wetland Buffer area of Wetlands as defined by VMC 20.740.140.


Staff recommends adoption of Option A for a few reasons. First, Option A is more easily mapped and provides greater clarity to the public and law enforcement regarding areas where camping is prohibited. Additionally, the designations of flood areas, wetlands, and habitat conservation areas under Option B will change over time with environmental changes, so a Critical Areas Protection Map would need to be continuously updated, which may cause more uncertainty regarding the location of Camping Impact Areas. Finally, Option B may be over-inclusive in protecting environmentally sensitive areas. For example, during certain seasons, designated wetlands are dry and isolated camping may not have a significant impact on such land.


Adoption of the proposed changes to Chapter 8.22 VMC would allow the City to establish a Supportive Campsite Pilot Program, which would serve as a temporary bridge while more permanent housing and shelter options are implemented.

None identified at this time.
Budget Impact

Funding for Supportive Campsites is included in the 2021-2022 budget. Some budget adjustments may be needed during the Supplemental Budget process to cover City-purchased tents/canopies and appropriate signage to designate Camping Impact Areas.

Prior Council Review

Action Requested

On September 20, 2021, subject to second reading and public hearing, approve the Option A or Option B ordinance.


Jamie Spinelli, Homeless Response Coordinator, 360-487-8610; Jonathan Young, City Attorney, 360-487-8500; Sara Baynard-Cooke, Assistant City Attorney, 360-487-8500


Ordinance Option A
Camping Impact Areas map - Ordinance Option A
Ordinance Option B
Camping Impact Areas map - Ordinance Option B
City Attorney's Memo - Ordinance Comparison
Site Selection Reductive Maps