Those involved with a now-closed soup kitchen called on Nanaimo city council to do something to help.
Stone Soup had been serving food on Nicol Street to people experiencing homelessness for more than a year until Monday morning when the tent structure it operated out of was dismantled and its owners, Tanya and Doug Hiltz, were evicted.
The Hiltzes, through the Wisteria Community Association, started Stone Soup in the backyard and nearby property of their rented home in March 2018. The operation served about 150 people a night, according to the Hiltzes.
During a committee of the whole meeting on Monday night, Andrew Homzy, a member of Wisteria Community Association, addressed city councillors about the situation.
“Tanya and Doug Hiltz were evicted this morning and they are now homeless,” he told councillors. “While it is a beautiful day in Nanaimo it is a dark day for these two remarkable people.”
Homzy said Stone Soup is in a crisis and will likely go extinct if a solution isn’t found. He called on council to hold a meeting, create a task force and find a solution that would ultimately allow Stone Soup to continue to operate.
“Stone Soup has cost the city nothing, has cost the province nothing. Nanaimo has the resources, ethics, experience and budget to help them resolve this and make Nanaimo a better place. This council has promised to turn the previous dysfunction around and this is a great opportunity to do so through improved community engagement and buy-in from the neighbourhood,” Homzy said, without going into further detail about what a solution would look like.
The Hiltzes were not present during the meeting.
Asked by council whether Stone Soup would consider partnering with other organizations such as the 7-10 Club or St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Homzy said the Hiltzes preferred to operate the kitchen from their own location.
“People feel comfortable, they feel not threatened. It’s, shall we say, in their pathway to other services,” Homzy said.
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said he and council are grateful for the services that Stone Soup provided but noted the operation did not comply with city bylaws, which ultimately led to the eviction.
“It’s a very unfortunate set of circumstances … but any such facility or any program or process would have to meet all city bylaw requirements,” he said.
Speaking to the News Bulletin after his presentation, Homzy said he’d like to see a city-sanctioned task force that would bring stakeholders such as Island Health, the province and others together to find a solution for Stone Soup.
“I think [Stone Soup and the 7-10 Club] are two different organizations. Maybe 7-10 doesn’t want Stone Soup to saddle up to them. I don’t know. But I think a task force or a committee or some sort of organization that has the sanction of the city could help facilitate that,” he said.
In February, the city received a complaint about illegal structure being built on the Nicol Street property and investigated the matter, according to a city staff report.
Bylaw inspectors determined the structure was constructed without a building permit and did not meet municipal and provincial building codes. The report noted that despite the “good intent behind the operation” of the soup kitchen, there was a public safety risk. The city ordered the structure to be removed in March of this year. Stone Soup continued to operate.
The city also issued a notice to the landlord, who, according to the report, issued an eviction notice. The B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch eventually ordered the tenants to vacate the property by June 30.
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