Homeless people at Nanaimo’s tent city might not be ready to break camp quite yet.
The protest camp set up on the grounds of Nanaimo City Hall has been there almost nine days, and organizers achieved some of their goals as city council approved at Monday’s meeting $350,000 in spending to address social issues including homelessness.
But the campers might not be leaving right away.
Matthew O’Donnell, spokesman for the camp-out, praised council’s actions, which include more funding for the extreme weather shelter, public shower facilities, a rent supplement program and a daytime drop-in centre. He said supportive housing continues to represent another key solution.
“In the meantime, we must find a place for our homeless population to safely live in peace without bothering the neighbourhood around them,” O’Donnell said. “It’s the human thing to do and we can absolutely do it. We cannot accept anything less, realistically, because, like I said, people are suffering on the ground right now.”
His comments concerned Coun. Jerry Hong, who pointed out that O’Donnell had promised the tents would come down if city council approved the social spending.
O’Donnell said he would have a conversation with the campers at city hall, but “there are about 40 homeless people who live in that tent city and in the end it’s their decision.”
He said the camp-out started as civil disobedience, but became a safe space for people in Nanaimo experiencing homelessness.
Mercedes Courtoreille, who isn’t homeless but camped at city hall last week in solidarity, said she noticed that at last week’s council meeting, some people seemed shocked to hear that there are hundreds of homeless people in Nanaimo.
“This number is not new. You just haven’t seen them,” she said. “Which would you prefer, human beings being forced to hide in shame, isolated in the woods so we don’t have to see them, or would you prefer helping your fellow human being who is down on their luck? … Providing people with housing is literally the least that we could do.”
City council unanimously passes all nine recommendations from last week’s finance and audit committee meeting. The aforementioned measures will be supplemented by provision of more portable toilets, garbage cans and needle disposal boxes and more security and cleanups downtown.
“These nine recommendations are a major shift for this council…” said Coun. Diane Brennan. “That’s good to see that we can move when challenged, and certainly, we have been challenged.”