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Discontent City residents confused about City of Nanaimo’s plans on eve of injunction

Lawyer representing camp supporters has asked that transition period be extended
Questions remain about the immediate future of Discontent City. (Nicholas Pescod/The News Bulletin)

Hours before a court-imposed injunction comes into effect, the immediate future of Discontent City is unclear.

B.C. Supreme Court granted the City of Nanaimo an injunction against the illegally formed tent city on Port Drive last month, paving the way for the camp to be dismantled anytime after midnight on Oct. 12. However, an application has been filed in Supreme Court requesting the deadline be moved to the end of November, when temporary housing will be ready, according to an e-mail from Noah Ross, a lawyer representing some of the residents at Discontent City.

Nanaimo is receiving 170 temporary supportive housing units from the provincial government in order to get some of the individuals living at Discontent City off the street. The B.C. Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing made it clear in an announcement last week that it expects tent city to remain open until the housing units are move-in ready in November.

On Friday afternoon, Nanaimo fire chief Karen Fry, the city’s director of public safety, told the News Bulletin that she expected legal action from Ross. She said a media report suggesting Discontent City will remain open until modular housing arrives is wrong.

“At this point in time that is not accurate,” she said.

Details about what will will happen to Discontent City immediately following the deadline imposed by Justice Ronald Skolrood were not disclosed, but Fry said she doesn’t expect there to be an immediate “mass movement” of residents.

“I think the next phase is that we want to see the cars removed and trailers removed,” she said. “Those aren’t tents and they need to be removed from the site.”

A temporary resource centre was set up out front of Discontent City along Esplanade on Thursday afternoon, allowing residents to access support services from B.C. Housing and other agencies. Sandwiches and storage containers were being handed out to anyone at the camp who wanted them.

Fry said she’s aware that people are feeling anxious about what might happen to them, which is a reason why supportive services have been on site. She also said the city wants to see the camp dismantled in a manner that is respectful and that officials will continue to work with the residents and B.C. Housing to find solutions.

“Over the next 24 hours we are going to be engaging with the residents at the tent site,” she said. “We are going to be providing them opportunities for outreach and we are still continuing to look for solutions. We are continually trying to assist B.C. Housing to see if there are any more emergency shelters that can be opened.”

RELATED: Tent city supporter says City of Nanaimo plans to dismantle camp on Friday

RELATED: City sets up service tents next to Discontent City to help campers relocate

Meanwhile, Melissa Burkhart, a resident of Discontent City and member of the camp’s residents’ council, said most camp occupants are worried and confused.

“Everybody here is scared and they don’t know who to trust because they’ve had so much information,” she said.

Burkhart said the city hasn’t really told them anything over other than to be prepared to leave by Oct. 12. She said that housing application have been distributed throughout the camp and that B.C. Housing is also working with individuals who have vehicles on the property to help them move.

“If there are trailers and trucks, if people don’t have insurance or they are not able to find storage or parking for them, B.C. Housing is facilitating that,” she said.

The decision to shut down the camp in any capacity doesn’t make sense, especially when modular housing is on the way, according to Burkhart, who said the city should wait until the housing arrives.

“It is hell already being homeless. It’s really stressful knowing that you have to go a park and take your tent every day,” she said. “We are human. We are people’s neighbours. We are people’s kids. We are not all bad people. I feel like we are getting treated as second-class citizens here.”

Various groups and individuals united in opposing any action to enforce an injunction against Discontent City homeless camp.

The B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition collected more than 70 signatures Friday on a letter to Nanaimo city council asking for an extension on “the current closing date of Oct. 12 for the tent city situated at 1 Port Drive, to align with the Ministry of Housing’s provision of temporary workforce modular housing.”

The letter references the City of Nanaimo’s action plan to end homelessness, endorsed by city council last month, and its stated goal that everyone has safe and stable housing.

“Solving the challenges of poverty and homelessness requires all three levels of government, as well as the non-profit sector, working in collaboration. Municipal councils cannot address these pressing social issues alone and yet they face them daily as they show up at the local level within our communities,” the letter notes. “This is why it is so important to align your commitments with provincial and federal strategies to address homelessness when you can, and this is an opportunity to do that.”

Some of the signatories to the letter were representatives from the United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island, Canadian Mental Health Association mid-Island branch, Island Crisis Care Society and the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce.

The city was holding an in camera meeting Friday morning at the service and resource centre.

Discontent City was established this past May by a handful of individuals including some who belong to Alliance Against Displacement, a Lower Mainland-based social activist group responsible for breaking into Rutherford Elementary School last weekend.

Burkhart said she doesn’t know whether the actions by members of Alliance Against Displacement were the right or wrong approach, but believes something needed to be done. She said AAD provides support to Discontent City, but does not run the camp.

“We are not working for them. We are not working as them. We are completely separate,” Burkhart said. “We are accepting their support and we are very glad and happy to have it, but we are completely separate from them.”

Even though Alliance Against Displacement members have been helpful and supportive, their agenda is “politically motivated” and their opinions do not represent the opinions of everyone at the camp, according to Burkhart.

“There are a lot of people here who would be happy with supportive housing and there are a lot of people who wouldn’t and it wouldn’t be appropriate for them,” Burkhart said. “But there are also a lot of people that need supportive housing and so I don’t think it is right that they are speaking on behalf of 300 people.” 
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