NANAIMO — A court filing submitted Thursday aims to delay or outright halt a looming eviction date at downtown Nanaimo's Discontent City.
Lawyer Noah Ross, who has represented the encampment in several hearings, filed an application on Oct. 11 to vary a court order from Supreme Court Justice Ronald Skolrood. Skolrood's decision, after a two-day injunction hearing, gave tent city residents until end of day Friday, Oct. 12 to leave the camp at 1 Port. Dr.
"We believe there are significant new circumstances that have arisen since the granting of Justice Skolrood's order," a release from Ross said. "The Province of British Columbia has announced 170 units of temporary modular housing for tent city residents. In my client’s view, leaving the camp open until this housing is available will allow them to maintain the benefits of residing in camp until housing can be provided."
Ross has asked the City of Nanaimo to stop any planned dismantling of Discontent City until after the application can be heard.
A hearing date is expected to be set by Friday afternoon.
While Ross made his application, several organizations signed an open letter also asking the City of Nanaimo to withhold from closing the site.
It was created by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and endorsed by local agencies, including the United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island.
United Way executive director Signy Madden told NanaimoNewsNOW "having a hard and fast date and exiting people off the site with no place to go is not humane. If we disperse people into other parks and parts of the community, it's going to be hard for us to help them when the modular housing gets up and running.”
Madden said she's heard of roughly 40 encampments scattered throughout Nanaimo with many people roaming and searching for shelter. Currently, all existing shelter spaces in Nanaimo are near or at capacity.
The deadline for signatures on the open letter was 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, at which time it was sent to Nanaimo city council.
In recent days, the City has said a “phased approach” would be taken when moving people out of Discontent City. That phrasing matched the words used by Housing Minister Selina Robinson, who used her announcement of temporary housing to call on the City to allow campers to remain until the 170 units were ready in late November.
Speaking to NanaimoNewsNOW Thursday evening, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief Karen Fry, staff lead on the file, said they're working with a very fluid timeline towards their ultimate goal of clearing the site.
“It's going to be dynamic and things could happen sooner or not sooner. It really depends on how things are progressing with movement. The intent is the camp will be closed. How that looks is going to depend on any further direction from Council and what occurs at that site," Fry said, adding it's unrealistic to think that many people could be moved off the site in one action.
She said their initial focus at Discontent City will be to remove cars and unnecessary structures, as well as fire hazards, to make it “as safe as possible while there's a transition of people out of the camp.”
On Thursday, several tents and a mobile command unit was set up on Esplanade St. just outside the camp to provide services. The resource centre will be set up from 1 to 5 p.m. daily, causing traffic disruptions, the City said in a release.
Fry said Nanaimo residents can expect to see more outreach workers and police presence at Discontent City in the days immediately following Friday's midnight deadline, along with staff from BC Housing to provide resources and help with the move.
As of 7 p.m. on Thursday, the City had not responded to the application by Ross to halt their efforts to clear the camp.
Nanaimo councillors are scheduled to go in-camera at 11 a.m. Friday to discuss the situation and possibly provide alternative direction on how to approach the closure of the camp.
— with files from Dominic Abassi
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