Nanaimo Council has agreed to hold off on clearing out Discontent City so a judge can hear an application to delay eviction of the camp until temporary housing is ready.
A hearing will take place on Friday, Oct. 19 at 9 a.m. after a lawyer representing some residents of the large illegal encampment filed an application to vary a court order calling for the camp to disperse by end of day Oct. 12.
Noah Ross argued the announcement Nanaimo would receive 170 units of temporary housing from the province significantly changed the circumstances originally considered by Justice Ronald Skolrood when he granted the City's request for an injunction to remove the camp. He's asking Skolrood to allow the camp to remain until the housing is ready in late November.
Councillors made the decision to defer closure of the camp during an in-camera meeting Friday afternoon.
Speaking to reporters later Friday, McKay said while the City is respecting the court's need to consider the application, closure of the camp is still the goal.
"As it stands right now, we're going to continue to be on site every day. There are service providers that are going to be on site every day and we're going to try and work particularly on the public safety issues and fire orders," McKay said, adding people will see the continued presence of officials from BC Housing and Island Health.
McKay was asked what he would say to neighbours and taxpayers fed up with the negative impacts of the camp, expecting it to be removed by the Oct. 12 deadline.
"It's my understanding there has been people leaving the site and that's what we've been hoping for...I would say it's been a difficult time for everyone but I think we're making progress and that's the good news here.
"With respect to the security of the site right now, we're asking the province for help and resources so we can ensure no more people go into the camp and people that are coming and going are only the residents of the camp."
He acknowledged any extended stay for Discontent City would mean more cost incurred by the City, referencing ongoing direct costs of over $185,000 — not including legal fees — and $300,000 committed towards mitigating impacts on the community.
"We're seeing those costs increase, particularly if the court were to decide on an extended stay for Discontent City. So that's why we're reaching out to the province for resources."
McKay said Council has not directed the City's lawyers how to respond to the latest court application from Ross, saying that will likely happen early next week.
Council's decision comes shortly after they were presented with an open letter circulated by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition calling on them to let the camp remain until the provincial housing is ready. The letter was signed by dozens of groups and individuals, including the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, local United Way and Island Crisis Care Society.
The support of the letter was not surprising, McKay said, noting there's a strong sentiment the closure of the camp should be handled with compassion and respect.
There were reports of vehicles being removed from Discontent City on Friday and groups of people leaving or packing belongings in preparation.
— with files from Spencer Sterritt
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