Discontent City has become a “vortex” for disruption and criminal behaviour.
That was one of the comments from Troy DeSouza, the City of Nanaimo’s legal counsel, during the first day of a scheduled two-day petition hearing in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
The city filed a petition earlier this month, 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. The petition names Mercedes Courtoreille, Gina Watson, Mike Pindar, Mystie Wintoneak, Kent Sexton, Dean Kory and “other unknown persons” as the respondents.
On Tuesday, Justice Ronald Skolrood heard arguments for and against Discontent City and its very existence at the Nanaimo courthouse, in the first day of a scheduled two-day hearing. There were no city councillors present during the hearing, which took place over five hours.
DeSouza laid out the city’s arguments for an injunction, explaining that many of the residents aren’t homeless, adding that there are youths who have homes who are living at the camp and taking intravenous drugs and prostituting themselves. He said Discontent City has created numerous health, safety, fire, legal and other issues since it was established.
“We are beyond tents now,” DeSouza said.
He said city staff worked hard and were able to arrange funding from B.C. Housing in order to provide more overnight shelter beds to homeless individuals at the First Unitarian Church. He also referenced various affidavits throughout the hearing.
In one instance a woman claims a number of campers were on her property and when she asked them to leave, they called her a “fat old cow” as well as a handful of other profane words, according to DeSouza, who also said that a tent city occupant came to the same woman’s building and “attempted to take” water from her building.
“In our view that is symptomatic of the kinds of disruption that ordinary citizens are facing in their lives and they should not have to face that,” DeSouza said.
However, Skolrood questioned how that a few individuals being rude to a nearby resident was the “fault of tent city.”
DeSouza disagreed, explaining that if tent city weren’t around, there wouldn’t be people stealing water there, nor would there have been an altercation.
“My Lord. They are not allowed to be at tent city. That’s the problem and so what happens is there is a location where they are not even permitted to be and it becomes a vortex of disruption and criminal activity,” DeSouza said.
It wasn’t until the afternoon that Noah Ross, attorney for Discontent City, was able to begin presenting arguments. Ross disputed the claim that the many of the individuals in the camp aren’t truly homeless. He pointed out that the city voted earlier this year against allowing a $7 million affordable housing project in Chase River that was funded by the province.
Ross also said there aren’t enough shelters for everyone, that the ones that do exist aren’t good enough, citing an affidavit from one man who claims he lived at one shelter but left because there were too many rules.
“He says he had to be in by six and could only leave for half an hour and that didn’t accomodate his lifestyle of seeing friends and being out,” Ross said, later explaining that residents at Discontent City feel a sense of community than they don’t have living alone on the street.
The hearing resumes Wednesday, July 18.