A former Discontent City resident who goes only by Ruby, left, describes her experiences at the tent city and its dismantling during a press conference organized by Alliance Against Displacement members including Listen Chen. CHRIS BUSH/ The News Bulletin

Supportive housing in Nanaimo isn’t a victory for homeless people, say advocates

Alliance Against Displacement criticizes how shutdown of Discontent City was handled

An illegal tent city in downtown Nanaimo has been dismantled and destroyed and the majority of its residents placed in supportive housing within the city, but members of Alliance Against Displacement aren’t feeling victorious.

Discontent City was established at the corner of Front Street and Esplanade, near Port Place mall, this past May by a handful of activists and members from Alliance Against Displacement, a Lower Mainland-based organization that advocates for people experiencing homelessness.

This past weekend, following months of legal wrangling, Discontent City residents were evicted from the Port Drive property, with approximately 155 people moving into temporary supportive housing units on Terminal Avenue and Labieux Road.

Laura Rose, member of Alliance Against Displacement, told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon that the eviction of people from Discontent City by the police was an act of repression against homeless people and that the newly added supportive housing units in Nanaimo isn’t a victory.

“It is institutional and it will take away our rights and we will have cops and social workers regulating us all the time,” Rose said, explaining that the only victory is the relationships that organization and supporters have formed with each other during their campaign.

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During Tuesday’s press conference, former Discontent City residents shared their stories of the eviction process at the Port Drive site.

Ruby, who did not disclose her last name, said she lived at Discontent City and felt safe but now lives in supportive housing. She said while she is happy to have housing now, the eviction of people at Discontent City was “inhumane” and wrong.

“Trying to pack up your whole life in a restricted amount of time is hard enough without having bulldozers literally idling outside your door waiting to crush your door and anything that is left behind,” she said. “It was basically inhumane treatment.”

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Willie McGillivary, a former resident of Discontent City, said he witnessed the evictions first hand and felt it was handled poorly.

“They ran over all the tents down there,” he said. “It sure was a mess and people wanted to get out of there as fast as they could because the tents beside them were getting crushed and dragged away. It wasn’t a very great site.”

At least 20 people have voluntarily left or turned down supportive housing from B.C. Housing, according to McGillivary, who said he also turned down supportive housing because he didn’t agree with the rules and was able to find another place to live.

In October, on the same day that the provincial government announced plans to build temporary supportive housing on Labieux Road and Terminal Avenue, members of AAD moved into the recently closed Rutherford Elementary School as part of a campaign they called Schoolhouse Squat.

Although Schoolhouse Squat was ultimately shut down and 27 individuals were arrested, Rose told reporters that it was absolutely necessary for them to move into the school and that it was unfair for the police to deem the school a crime scene.

“We took it to make it a home but the cops and the state made it a crime scene, not a home,” she said. “They immediately had yellow tape around. Supporters couldn’t give us food, water, we had no political support from our comrades and our friends because they weren’t allowed in, yet the [Soldiers of Odin] … were allowed to get closer and closer and closer and scream profanities and death threats at members of our organization and members of Discontent City.”

Rose said it was logical to take Rutherford Elementary School because homeless people needed a safe place to go, particularly since the short-term future of Discontent City was unclear.

“We did a logical thing. We realized we might lose this place so we needed take another place to be safe and the logic of the police and the logic of the Canadian state was everything that homeless people do is a crime,” she said.

Listen Chen, an Alliance Against Displacement member, said people in Nanaimo have been mean to its members following Schoolhouse Squat.

“[Nanaimo is] probably the most hateful town I’ve ever been to in British Columbia. The amount of violence and threats and misogynistic attention paid to our organizers here has been really tough to handle,” Chen said.

Asked whether Alliance Against Displacement plans any further action in Nanaimo since the shutdown of Discontent City, Chen said it depends.

“We organize in multiple communities across British Columbia and we follow the direction of homeless people who are organizing, so yeah, if they decide they want to keep organizing, we will follow them,” Chen said.







nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com 
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