Not too long from now, a B.C. Supreme Court judge will decide whether a patch of land filled with tents and informal settlers in downtown Nanaimo can stay or be dismantled.
For those completely unaware, the City of Nanaimo has been grappling a tent city, dubbed Discontent City, on their own property at 1 Port Dr. since mid-May. What began as a small camp of protesters raising awareness about the plight homeless people face has ballooned into an unsanctioned campsite with more than 200 occupants.
In the weeks following Discontent City’s establishment, there have been overdose deaths, a stabbing and claims by Nanaimo RCMP of increased criminal activity in the neighbourhood around Port Drive.
Two weeks ago, a two-day petition hearing was held, with the City of Nanaimo seeking a statutory injunction to have the camp shut down and destroyed.
Make no mistake about it, regardless of the way the judge rules, there will be no winners. Just losers.
It’s hard to imagine but a little more than a year ago, the focus around Port Drive was whether an $80-million arena should be constructed on the property using strictly taxpayer money. And for the last 10 weeks or so, the debate around that same land is about whether an illegal encampment should remain or be destroyed.
When Discontent City first established, Mercedes Courtoreille, advocate and one of the organizers of the camp, read a declaration telling the media that Port Drive was chosen because “it should be used for the greatest community good, which we believe is to protect and defend the lives and the well-beings of those members of the community most vulnerable to injury and death.”
Since then, two of community’s most vulnerable have died at Discontent City. Crime has increased significantly in the Port Place Mall and Cameron Island neighbourhoods, at least according to the RCMP and a number of residents in the area whom I’ve spoken with.
What began as an honourable protest to raise awareness about the plight of homelessness in British Columbia has spiraled completely out of control. The majority of the founding protesters are long gone, say the RCMP, and there is no real leadership.
When this is all said and done, the city will have spent too much taxpayer money on dealing with Discontent City due to legal fees, staff hours and policing costs.
It’s money that could have been used to build tiny homes or purchase second-hand mobile homes and campers for an interim housing solution.
It’s money that at the very least could have been used to build or rent accessible storage units, so people experiencing homelessness actually have a secure place to store their stuff.
It’s money that might have been used toward hiring more staff members to help assist the homeless population, or spent toward programs and resources such as a daytime drop-in centre.
Instead, it’s money, that in my opinion, has been wasted on dealing with a group of individuals who refuse to comply with the most basic fire safety order, for their own protection, when safety was a key point raised in their initial declaration.
Perhaps $80 million on a hockey arena wasn’t such a bad idea after all.