Gina Watson and Mike Pindar set up camp at Discontent City on Thursday. The city will provide police patrols, fencing, portable toilets and a trash dumpster for hygiene and security. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo mayor says new tent city is ‘a good option’ for now

Municipality to provide toilets, garbage collection and police patrols at downtown homeless camp

The city is preparing to set up garbage collection and sanitation service for what could be a summer of discontent.

Discontent City formed Thursday when local homeless people, supported by former residents of other tent cities, broke through the gate of an empty city lot at the corner of Esplanade and Front Street.

About 20 campsites were set up during the demonstration, but more were expected to arrive as the protest continues and the city will take steps to ensure safety and sanitation measures are in place, according to Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay.

“They’re very well-organized,” McKay said. “They come from Anita Place in Maple Ridge.”

McKay expressed confidence in the organizational skills of the camp’s supporters, but took exception to criticisms in the Discontent City founding declaration, read by advocate Mercedes Courtoreille, that accuse the city of dragging its feet on dedicating a permanent location for Nanaimo’s homeless people to live and of “kowtowing to the city’s NIMBYs who oppose all social housing, shelters or any other community service for low-income people.”

A plan to place supportive housing in Chase River was defeated when it was opposed by residents of the area in February. The city had also earmarked more than $350,000 to deal with health and safety issues downtown after a protest tent city was set up at Nanaimo City Hall in March.

“When [Courtoreille] says that we responded to NIMBYs, that wasn’t the point,” McKay said. “We wanted to be able to have a conversation and a dialogue with our community. That’s No. 1. No. 2, we asked the minister [of municipal affairs and housing] to find another location. The minister chose not to give us that opportunity.”

The declaration also demanded the municipality provide garbage collection, bathroom facilities and drinking water.

McKay said the city will provide a garbage dumpster and two portable toilets to the site.

“We’re redeploying those portable toilets from the downtown initiative … and we’re also fencing the area off so that everyone can feel better about their safety and the security of the rail operations there,” McKay said. “There are dangerous goods there, so we want to make sure that the railway operations are secure and then we’re going to be doing hourly patrols with RCMP to make sure that everybody’s safe.”

As for how long the city will allow the camp to remain, that will require direction from city council, said the mayor.

“We’re taking a wait-and-see attitude over the weekend,” McKay said. “Our concern is they’re safe there now and as opposed to having them back at city hall or in one of our parks, for example. This is a good option for them. We’ve got the ability to fence the area off and provide some amenities simply for their personal health and hygiene, if you will, and a large dumpster so they can dispose of their garbage.”

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