Residents living at Discontent City are beginning to pack up their belongings and move off the downtown Nanaimo property.
Officials from B.C. Housing and the City of Nanaimo have begun moving residents of the illegal homeless camp off the property.
Dave LaBerge, city manager of community safety, said as many as 20 residents could be moved to supportive housing Friday, with more over the weekend and the following week as housing units become ready for occupancy.
Chris Glaros, who has lived at Discontent City for several months, said he will move into a supportive housing unit at Bryden Street and Terminal Avenue next week. Glaros, 52, from Gabriola Island, said he was a commercial diver for 16 years before he became injured and couldn’t work. A supportive housing unit will provide security for his belongings, so he can go out and find employment.
“I’ve been moving, off and on, for about six years, I guess. Maybe a little longer,” Glaros said. “I feel good. It’ll have a door. Doors are good … once I’ve got the housing, then I can work. I’m getting back into art full-time. I used to do that before diving. Sculpture, painting, drawings, pottery.”
Glaros said he found out Wednesday he was selected for housing and has questions about tenancy requirements, such as whether he needs to provide a rental deposit and how permanent the housing at the Terminal Avenue site will be.
Mike Dubensky is one of Discontent City’s residents who didn’t receive housing and said it was because he wasn’t recognized as a resident because he works in the daytime and wasn’t on the site most days between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
“If you weren’t here between nine and five on a weekday, and didn’t get to interact with [city and B.C. Housing representatives], they wouldn’t know you and didn’t give you housing,” Dubensky said. “So what that means is anybody that works, anybody that has a job or tries to do something isn’t going to get housing … I’ve been here since May.”
Dubensky said he works part-time as a mover or takes any job that will pay, but has problems finding affordable housing, which he blames, in part, on his appearance.
“I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be known to be here. I mean, this was a last resort for me, you know?” Dubensky said. “I can pay rent. I have a hard time finding places that will rent to me because, you know, when they’re choosing between 20-year-old college students with daddy’s money and a guy with hand tattoos. I had a $1,500 a month budget back in May when I started. Obviously it’s gone down from there.”
Dubensky does not know where he will live after Discontent City is closed.
Once all the residents have been relocated, crews will remove any remaining structures and debris left on the property, according to a city press release.
The camp’s impending closure comes 70 days after the B.C. Supreme Court granted the City of Nanaimo an injunction against tent city, which had given officials permission to shut the camp down after Oct. 12. However, B.C. Supreme Court Judge Ronald Skolrood later granted an application for extension of the Oct. 12 deadline, allowing the camp to remain open until today, Nov. 30.
Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said officers will be at Port Drive monitoring the relocation efforts and residents will be moved off the property over the course of four days. He said police aren’t expecting any problems to arise.
“We don’t expect any issues. There may be one or two people who are causing some discontent and we will certainly facilitate any discussions with them but we are not expecting any problems,” O’Brien said.
Coun. Ian Thorpe said while he realizes is still a lot of work to do around the issue of homelessness in Nanaimo, he’s pleased to see Discontent City start to close and individuals being placed into alternative accommodations.
“Homelessness and poverty is an ongoing issue and that is not going to suddenly disappear. But the tent city was something that we had to deal with and it brought the whole issue sharply into focus,” Thorpe said. “Tent city was not a safe situation for many people there.”
Discontent City was established in mid-May and had a population of more than 250 people at one point. Thorpe said when the camp first started, he realized that finding a solution wasn’t going to be simple.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be a quick fix. It has been six or seven months I believe and it has taken that long but I am pleased with how we approached the problem. I know we took some criticism for not being able to move things faster and deal with it sooner but we waited for the court injunction, which was a permanent injunction and once we were successful with that then we knew that there was an end point.”
Thorpe said he’s visited the Labieux Road supportive housing site and is impressed with what B.C. Housing has done. He said he recognizes that there might be some issues and challenges, but believes it’s safer than having people live on the streets.
“I think it is going to be a safe situation for the residents and also for the neighbourhood,” he said. “Yes, there are going to be challenges and there are going to be problems, but I don’t think it is going to be as horrible a situation as some people seem to think it will be here.”
Noah Ross, a lawyer representing a number of organizers and residents living at Discontent City said he wasn’t planning on taking any additional legal action. He said he is pleased to learn that the city isn’t planning on evicting everyone out of Discontent City immediately because not all the supportive housing units are ready.
“That is positive,” Ross said.
Ross also said the temporary supportive housing being provided by B.C. Housing is the result of all those who lived at Discontent City.
“It is testament to the efforts made by the people at [Discontent City], who were willing to be criticized and be visible. They put up with it and they stayed there and they fought for what they needed so it is a huge victory,” he said. “Some people have concerns about the housing, but I’ve talked to a number of people at the camp who are excited about it. It should help to stabilize their lives a little bit.”
However, Ross said his clients’ position remains that Discontent City is a better option for homeless people than being on the street.
“The view of my clients is that the camp was better for their health and safety than them living out in bushes and in parks,” he said.
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog was not available for comment.