NANAIMO — A mini tent city has formed at City Hall, just days after millions of dollars in social housing pegged for Nanaimo was lost.
Protesters arrived at Nanaimo City Hall Monday morning and pitched six tents on the front lawn facing Wallace St. The movement is in response to the province reallocating $7 million worth of funding earmarked for a modular supportive housing project in Chase River, which was rejected by City Council following fierce localized scrutiny.
One of the City Hall campers is James Reardon, 20, who has been homeless for a little over a week after living in Nanaimo for the past two years.
“Nobody out here wants to be out here that I know of,” Reardon said. “With housing out here we can give people a foot up to change the world.”
Reardon, originally from Seattle, said he held down a job for most of the past two years and stable housing would help get his life back on track.
He and other protesters intend to camp at City Hall respectfully.
“If it's lawless then nobody's going to respect us, it just feeds into the stereotypes of what people think of homeless people on the streets,” he said.
Community activist Amanda Orum said word of forming a tent city is spreading throughout people living in existing encampments. She said there is a lot of disappointment and anger in the community about how the City lost $7 million in social housing.
“The fact that our City bowed down to pressure when it got ugly is very upsetting to me,” Orum said.
Orum criticized the City's homelessness strategy, saying it isn't doing enough to address the issue.
Karen Fry, the City's fire chief and acting director of public safety, said camping at City Hall is illegal and stressed on site to organizers that campfires are not allowed.
"The property has been designated as a no camping area...The City Bylaws, Fire and Police will monitor it (homeless encampment) from a safety perspective," Fry said.
Mayor Bill McKay said he's confident Nanaimo can take advantage of a second round of provincial social housing, while City staff look for alternate locations.
He said he understands frustrations from protestors and others in the community, but said Council felt it was best to take a measured approach.
"We were not going to go ahead just because there was funding available in a manner that excludes our citizens from having fullsome discussions on appropriate siting."
On Twitter: @reporterholmes
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