'It's heartbreaking:' activists say after entrance gate removed from downtown tent city

By Spencer Sterritt
May 22, 2018 - 4:37pm

After six days, Discontent City by Port Place Shopping Centre has nearly doubled in size.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

The gate right beside the signs was taken down by City staff Tuesday morning, prompting a sometimes volatile protest.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

The hub of Discontent City, where supplies and food are handed out. Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

Many of the tents are left empty during the day as tent city residents wander or are at work.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

Tents are now scattered across 1 Port Dr., housing roughly 50 people.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — Housing activists and the homeless say the removal of a gate at the entrance to the recently-established tent city downtown leaves them vulnerable and unsafe.

“They're breaching our safety,” activist Amber McGrath told NanaimoNewsNOW at Discontent City, now in it's sixth day at 1 Port Dr. across from the Port Place Shopping Centre.

The gate was removed around 10 a.m. on Tuesday by City of Nanaimo staff under the eye of RCMP. Four were arrested but not charged.

“We use those gates to keep people out. There's citizens threatening to Molotov cocktail us, open fire with paintball guns. People are driving by and screaming multiple times daily at us,” McGrath said.

Nanaimo mayor Bill McKay said the gate needed to be removed for first responders to access the site during an emergency, such as an overdose.

“[The gate] makes it very difficult when your equipment is out on the street, hundreds of feet away,” McKay said about paramedics responding to calls. He confirmed there were two overdoses at the tent city.

“Fire rescue and paramedics are uncomfortable going on the site without RCMP. The campers I understand are refusing to allow RCMP on the site or are aggressively opposing them.”

Countering the claim, McGrath said leaders at Discontent City have tried to be reasonable with officers but are being harassed by police checking in at the middle of the night and disturbing them.

“Can you imagine sleeping in your bed and having a bright light shone through your bedroom window? It's terrifying. It's harassment and it's scary.”

Despite Tuesday mornings volatile scene, McGrath said tent city residents are trying to be as responsible as possible and regulate themselves.

“Everybody meets and the residents have a say in all sorts of things-who's going to do what chores, who's going to volunteer to watch the community kitchen, watch the gate, pick up garbage. They're coming together, learning to work and becoming a community. They're looking after each other.”

To guide the camp, potentially for the long-term, a small council was voted in to make decisions for the camp of now roughly 40 tents.

McGrath said there's a wide mix of people living at Discontent City.

“I've seen a couple of young men get up at 6 a.m. and put on a pair construction boots and walk out the gate to get to work. There's so many different people here for so many different reasons.”

Since setting up a tent on the first day, Stuart W., who declined to share his last name, said he feels more safe inside the tent city than out on the street and he's pleased to see there's leadership in place.

However, he said the camp is at a make-it-or-break-it moment.

“[Wednesday] is welfare day and it's going to be a big test,” he said. “We're going to see how well this council is keeping an eye on things.”

Everyone involved in anyway is looking at the future of Discontent City.

McGrath said organizers are preparing to fight an inevitable injunction moving them off the land.

Mayor McKay said evicting the homeless hasn't been discussed at the Council table and they're awaiting a staff report on options, expected in coming days.


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On Twitter: @spencer_sterrit

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