DisconTent City: advocates, homeless set up camp on downtown Nanaimo waterfront

By Spencer Sterritt
May 17, 2018 - 3:13pm Updated: May 17, 2018 - 10:32pm

The newest home for Nanaimo's homeless on 1 Port Dr. Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

Nanaimo's homeless, some who are also employed but can't find anything affordable, say the crisis is at a breaking point.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

This is the second major tent city in two months, after roughly 30 homeless individuals set up camp at Nanaimo city hall.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

Organizers from the Anita Place tent city in Maple Ridge, pictured here, helped set up Discontent City.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

The tent city was erected under the watchful eye of Nanaimo police.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

Nanaimo's homeless population hopes they now have a permanent home, making camp in City-owned land along the waterfront.

The homeless moved into their latest camp at 1 Port Dr. on Thursday, aided by numerous advocates from the community.

“The City wants homeless people in the woods where they can't see them and they don't have to deal with them,” advocate Mercedes Courtoreille told media outside the camp. “We need to make it inconvenient for the people in power to continue to ignore this issue.”

The camp, called Discontent City, is just the latest encampment around Nanaimo. A tent city was first erected at City Hall, protesting the loss of $7 million in supportive housing, before the homeless were evicted.

“We've had enough of Nanaimo City's foot-dragging due to NIMBY's who will oppose all social housing, shelters or any other community service for low-income people,” Courtoreille said.

City-land is being used because “It should be used for the greatest community good,” she said. "We want the City to publicly dedicate this land for social housing and for provincial parties to build social housing here.”

Discontent City wasn't set up overnight. Courtoreille said discussions about the camp were in the works for several months. Organizers and advocates from other tent cities across the province, including Victoria and Maple Ridge, were on-hand Thursday to help.

Mayor Bill McKay told NanaimoNewsNOW he's sympathetic to the plight of Nanaimo's homeless and he wants to know how and why activists came to the decision to erect another tent city.

“We certainly can't make buildings pop up out of thin air for these folks to live in,” he said. “We're doing the best we can...We're working as fast as we can.”

McKay said the City can hopefully provide the garbage collection, water and washrooms demanded by leaders of Discontent City, but couldn't make any promises.

Homeless advocates previously claimed the City told them they could stay at Bowen Park when they left City Hall but were thrown out after a few days.

McKay said there appears to have been a miscommunication about the solution to the tent city.

“The City made it very clear they can shelter overnight in City parks but they have to be out every morning. That's been the City's position from the beginning. We didn't tell them they could go camp there. We told them they could go shelter there.”

He cited a recent $350,000 spending package for homelessness initiatives, which includes the use of showers at Caledonia Park and rent subsidies, as ways the City of Nanaimo is trying to tackle the ongoing housing crunch.

The money doesn't mean much to advocate Chris Thompson, who said it's a drop in the bucket of what the City and councillors should be doing.

“They say they're doing something and they're not. They dropped the ball on millions of dollars of supportive housing. I think everyone's just getting sick of it, which is why this was able to gain traction.”

From his vantage as a downtown resident, Thompson said the biggest reason he was helping at Discontent City was how he's seen homeless people be treated.

“Very often, cops will be called and destroy their things and make them move or arrest them and that's the end of that. Eight hours later they're homeless again and now they have no stuff. I've seen a lot of homeless people being beat up for no reason.”

Many in the surrounding area are concerned about the encampment and what it means for them.

Ed Singer, owner of Sundown Diving just across the road, said he's sympathetic to the cause but worries about the amount of garbage which will be created, especially without garbage cans installed.

“That's one part I don't agree with. It's one thing people who are homeless trying to find a place to live, but when they make a mess of the neighbourhood they're in, then it creates problems.”

From his spot at the corner of Esplanade and Front St., Singer said he's well aware of the plight Nanaimo's homeless face since he sees it every day.

Looking out at the camp being constructed, he said he does hope this latest development will be enough to bring substantial help to those in need.


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