The City of Nanaimo hasn’t followed through on a trespass notice issued to Discontent City campers.
The city issued the notice Friday, ordering protesters to vacate city property at the corner of Esplanade and Front Street which the campers had taken over May 17.
The notice ordered the protesters to vacate the property by 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 29, but that deadline passed with no action taken by city bylaws or Nanaimo RCMP.
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said the city issued the eviction notice, but that didn’t mean the city intended to show up at the site to start “hauling people out” and the city is not looking for confrontation. The intent was to put protesters on notice they’ve trespassed and the city would like them to vacate.
“It’s far more complicated than that,” McKay said. “The city’s not looking forward to or intending to get into conflict with the protest organizers. That’s not our intention at all.”
Noah J. Ross of Huntsman Law said he is representing some of the campers on a limited retainer regarding any civil litigation the city might initiate against the camp.
“If the city did file for an injunction, I would represent those campers in defence of the injunction application and I’m working in relation to avoiding that kind of litigation from occurring by trying to build relationships between the camp and the police and the city,” Ross said.
Ross, who assisted on the legal team representing the tent city campers at the Victoria courthouse in 2015 and 2016, said he took the Discontent City case on because he believes there should be more affordable housing provided and that simply forcing people to move with their belongings from parks and public spaces each morning is detrimental to mental health and the ability to get out of homelessness.
“It just seems like a really inefficient way to address homelessness, so I think camps like this are a good interim support while [they] wait for there to be more affordable housing,” he said.
Ross said in the past 20 years there have been decisions passed down from the B.C. Supreme Court that established if there is not sufficient affordable housing available for homeless people and there is available unused municipal land a city cannot prove another use for, then camps, set up for the purpose of providing for the safety and security of the campers, should be allowed to remain.
“If there isn’t a shelter space, people should be able to maintain a camp on unused land,” Ross said.
McKay said Discontent City organizers also have “some very confusing demands,” which he said includes the creation of housing opportunities for all homeless people in Nanaimo “virtually overnight.”
He said city council fulfilled its commitment to the city hall lawn tent protest organizers to get the province to “come to the table” with funding for a drop-in or warming centre for people experiencing homelessness, and added that the city has approved applications for various affordable housing projects that are either starting or being completed and cited the Brechin Church development on Estevan Road as an example.
McKay said the city has been caught off-guard by the rising number of homeless people in Nanaimo, which he blamed, in part, on rising Lower Mainland real estate prices that are spilling over to the Island combined with not enough new low-income housing being constructed to meet demand.
“We believed we had nearly 300 homeless or in jeopardy of being homeless back in 2010 and built 140 units of housing,” he said. “We’re not catching up. We’re not gaining any ground.”
McKay said the recent protests are acts of desperation by people, some of whom have mental health or addiction issues or combinations of both.
“I think it was former [B.C. premier Mike Harcourt] that said, ‘Every one of us are either a job, an illness or a relationship away from needing their community’s help,’ and that’s where we’re at,” McKay said. “So, as a society and as a community we’ve to got offer them the help that we would hope for should we find ourselves in their situation.”