Homeless protest grows at Nanaimo City Hall

By Spencer Sterritt
March 13, 2018 - 1:53pm

The number of tents at Nanaimo City Hall doubled overnight at unrest grew over a lack of affordable housing and services in the City.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW Staff

City staff meeting with protest organizers at Nanaimo City Hall, presenting options to handle the camp.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW Staff

There was a lot of activity at City Hall. Despite many standing around and looking in the building, acting public safety director Karen Fry said she hasn't heard any concerns from staff.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW Staff

NANAIMO — Unrest is growing directly outside the doors of Nanaimo City Hall, as the tents set up on the property in protest doubled over night.

On Tuesday morning there were roughly 12 tents set up across the City Hall lawn, an increase from the six originally set up Monday morning to protest the lack of supportive and affordable housing in the City.

Most tents were occupied and the lawn was abuzz with activity as supporters dropped by to share words of support and also as drivers rolled through saying the homeless needed to get jobs and should be ashamed of themselves.

Organizers met with City staff Tuesday morning discussing options about the protest and some possible solutions.

Acting public safety director Karen Fry said the protest and organizers coming before City Council Monday night has kicked their homelessness strategy into high gear.

“Fortunately enough our staff have been diligently working on a plan to take to Council...It appears to have gotten quicker legs,” Fry said. A report will come before the City's finance and audit committee meeting on Wednesday, looking at options to clean Nanaimo's downtown and alleviate various issues seen by the homeless and the greater community.

Fry said City staff are still hard at work finding an alternative location for supportive housing in Nanaimo, after the province withdrew their funding for a $7 million, 44-unit project in Chase River.

Local government rejecting the Chase River location was cited by protest organizers as a significant reason they were now at City Hall.

Fry said the tents will remain but not become entrenched.

“We're just going to monitor them for any safety issues. A lot of times people have fires inside tents, especially as it gets colder. Primarily it's about fire safety and protecting individuals. At this point in time, we're respecting their ability to have a peaceful demonstration.”

Organizer Matt O'Donnell said he's optimistic about the meeting on Wednesday and is giving the City the benefit of the doubt about making a change.

However, it doesn't mean the tents will be voluntarily removed any time soon.

“If we're not going to get true action from Nanaimo City Council and the City of Nanaimo in general, then we're going to put out an open invitation to all the homeless community in Nanaimo to congregate here.”

Looking to the future, O'Donnell said he doesn't anticipate the protest turning into a long-term tent city.


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