Discontent City organizer Sophie Wendling stands beside Willie McGillivary, a resident of the informal settlement, during a press conference on Wednesday morning. Both Wendling and McGillivary claim Discontent City’s population exceeds 300 people and there is little room left. (Nicholas Pescod/NEWS BULLETIN)

Discontent City organizer Sophie Wendling stands beside Willie McGillivary, a resident of the informal settlement, during a press conference on Wednesday morning. Both Wendling and McGillivary claim Discontent City’s population exceeds 300 people and there is little room left. (Nicholas Pescod/NEWS BULLETIN)

Discontent City mulls expansion, cites growing population

More people coming into camp due to direction from Nanaimo RCMP, claim advocates

A homeless camp in downtown Nanaimo has seen its population balloon in recent weeks, prompting organizers to consider expansion.

Sophie Wendling, an organizer and advocate, said Discontent City is now home to more than 300 people and the camp is considering all its options.

“We are not entirely sure yet, but we know something needs to be done. It could look like moving somewhere. It could look like splitting up into smaller camps, like two camps or something, or taking over a new space,” she said.

The City of Nanaimo is seeking a statutory injunction to shut down Discontent City and have its occupants removed from the vacant land at 1 Port Dr., which is located on the corners of Front Street and Esplanade. A two-day hearing took place this past July in the Supreme Court of British Columbia; however, a ruling has not yet been made by Justice Ronald Skolrood.

Wendling doesn’t anticipate any decision on expansion to be made until after Skolrood has made his ruling. She said the concerns right now are around a lack of space and the colder weather, adding that regardless of capacity, the camp won’t turn people away.

“We won’t be letting people go back to where they came from,” Wendling said.

Her comments came after the camp’s organizers held a press conference Wednesday morning, when they claimed Nanaimo RCMP and city bylaw officers are breaking up homeless camps throughout the community.

“People are consistently being displaced. People from these smaller camps are being told by RCMP and bylaw to either leave town and go camp on Crown land or move to Discontent City,” Wendling told reporters.

She said authority figures are sending homeless people mixed messages as the city is fighting to have the camp shut down, later adding that the majority of the people coming to Discontent City are from Nanaimo and not elsewhere.

“It’s easier to blame outsiders for making the homelessness issue in the city more visible,” Wendling said.

RELATED: City in holding pattern following this week’s court ruling regarding Discontent City

Last week, a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted an injunction against a tent city in Saanich known as Camp Namegans. Occupants of that tent city were ordered to vacate the property as of Tuesday night. As a result of the court’s decision, Welding said she anticipates more people to show up at Discontent City.

Meanwhile, Willie McGillivary, a resident of Discontent City who spoke during the press conference, said there isn’t enough space at the camp anymore. He said the police are routinely sending homeless people from elsewhere in the city to Discontent City.

“We’ve had the police now sending people from other tent cities to come here to live and then they are saying we can’t live here and they want us off here. What are we supposed to do? Go back to the streets? It’s not right.”

McGillivary said he feels safer at Port Drive than on the streets and is concerned that with so many people flooding into Discontent City, it will get shut down.

“We need more space. We can’t handle all of these people,” he said.

Madison Dunbar, a 20-year-old Nanaimoite who has only been living at Discontent City for the last three weeks, said she was living at another homeless camp when bylaw officers kicked her out and told her to leave town or go to Discontent City.

“It was not really a choice,” she said, later adding that she didn’t really want to go to Discontent City, but after trying other places she felt she had no choice but to come to the camp.

Dunbar said she takes advantage of services offered by the Salvation Army and the 7-10 Club when she can and wants her own place but can’t afford it. She said living at Discontent City is “all right” but also filled with “drama,” plenty of drug use, fighting and that the bathrooms are in unpleasant condition.

“You really don’t always feel safe here,” she said, later adding that the camp is too crowded.

Const. Gary O’Brien, media spokesman for the Nanaimo RCMP, said officers have not and do not instruct homeless people scattered throughout the city to go to Discontent City. He explained that officers do, however, engage with homeless individuals they encounter and ask them why they are not at Discontent City.

“When our members find people in various situations throughout the city, the first thing they want to do is have a dialogue with them, and one of the first questions they ask is why aren’t you going to Discontent City? We are not advocating on behalf of tent city, we’re just saying ‘why aren’t you going there’ because we also recognize that going into parks and sleeping in Diana Krall Plaza is detrimental to the city and to their health,” O’Brien said, adding that some of the homeless people tell them Discontent City isn’t safe and that’s why they won’t go there.

Karen Fry, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief and the city’s director of public safety, could not be reached for comment.




nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com 
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