NANAIMO, B.C. - Jul. 7, 2018 - Here's the way it stands in Tent City in Nanaimo. Five people have died in the camp, three of flu, which deaths cannot be reported as occurring at Tent City, the residents were hospitalized and died, one of overdose, and one 18 year old male stabbed to death.
Well over 100 tents are now standing on the two or three hectares of broken tarmac beside the rail yard and industrial harbour at the south end of downtown Nanaimo adjacent the Port Place Mall.
Ministry of Child and Family Services personnel are conducting daily monitoring of the site for the presence of people under the age of 18, and extracting them if they are found.
The City of Nanaimo requested the provincial health department do a site inspection with the hope the department exercised their power to order site evacuation. The city was anticipating the use of the Vancouver Island health authority's extraordinary power, except the result ended up being the following news release:
City Responds to Hazard Abatement and Prevention Order
STATEMENT - Distributed July 6, 2018 4:15 PM
Yesterday, Island Health issued a Hazard Abatement and Prevention Order to the City of Nanaimo with respect to the Tent City property. In addition to continuing to provide solid waste services, the Order requires that the City of Nanaimo provide the following to 1 Port Drive:
1. a free flow of potable water;
2. additional portable toilet facilities and associated maintenance; and
3. hand sanitizing stations near the portable toilet facilities.
Dr. Paul Hasselback, Island Health Medical Health Officer has stated that there are “reasonable and probable grounds to believe that conditions exist that present a significant risk of causing a health hazard”. As such, the City has been ordered to provide the above-mentioned services by July 10, 2018 at 5 p.m.
The City has always maintained that this is an illegal trespass and unsafe occupation. As part of this, the City of Nanaimo issued a Notice to Vacate to the Tent City occupants on May 25, 2018. On June 25, 2018, the City requested that the Court expedite the civil injunction proceedings filed by the City on an urgent basis due to the fire and other ongoing safety concerns with the Tent City at 1 Port Drive. This request was denied by the Court and the hearing has been set for the week of July 16, 2018.
Since this decision, there have been ongoing safety concerns, including a stabbing, a fatal overdose and recent fire. A Provincial Fire Order was issued by the Local Assistant to the Fire Commissioner on May 30, 2018, with which the Tent City occupants have not complied.
Island Health has the authority to issue an evacuation order to the trespassers to remedy the health and safety concerns caused by the occupation of land not zoned or equipped for permanent or overnight accommodation. However, they issued a Hazard Abatement and Prevention Order. The City will be required to fund the services detailed in the order, if the order stands.
The City has a statutory right to ask the Medial Health Officer to reconsider his decision and will be using the appropriate legal channels to make this request.
NANAIMO, B.C. - UPDATED JUN 27, 2018 - The denizens of DisconTent City Nanaimo, in the centre of the City of Nanaimo, have been situated at the corner of Esplanade and Front Street since May 17, 2018, continue to occupy the property and in fact expand their presence almost daily.
Reports come about events like families showing up and being told the property isn't suitable. Or grocer Thrifty's Foods experiencing increases in shoplifting while Tent City residents have a collective steak night. Or ten new tents arrive every other day.
There is divided public opinion. Generally speaking, people in the south end of the city want it shut down, while people on the north end of the city say let it stand. It's the people on the south end whose property values plummet as long as the itinerant camp is left standing. A couple of recent house sales on Haliburton Street just around the corner from Tent City site have been cancelled, 'Sold' signs replaced with 'For Sale.'
Tourists taking walks along the city's sea wall have had to step around discarded needles and human excrement. On the other hand, the camp's organizers have strived to keep the site clean, although there have been a few days of heavy stench from garbage build up. It has been homeless people joined by advocates calling the shots, by and large, being 'noticed'. A few brows have been furrowed about it, the Port Place Mall had a crowd of people standing atop the two storey parking lot shouting down at Tent City residents to pack up and leave.
Complaints of the increase in shoplifting and car break-ins continues. Port Place Mall is directly across from the city land occupied by what has become known as DisconTent City, the camp has become entrenched on the under-utilized city property on the south end of downtown Nanaimo.
The homeless have a harbour view, but the question remains, what will it take to make them fold those tents?
As the past few weeks turn into months, what is it people of Tent City Nanaimo want? When they first put a hole in the fence and crawled through to begin assembling the squatters camp, it was obviously to obtain a bit of relief from a ravaging winter just finished. These are people who battled against the odds to survive hypothermia, personal desolation, and loneliness.
Now there are a few more than the 350 homeless people freezing in doorways of commercial properties last winter, in front of businesses, on empty lots within walking distance of downtown facilities like the Salvation Army lunch and supper. At DisconTent City Nanaimo, these are homeless people who scrambled to retain meagre possessions stolen by others of their ilk, or confiscated by police. These are people who get moved several times a night through winter, who struggle to get so much as a few minutes warm sleep all winter long.
One might ask, is it not common decency to allow them to feel discontent, the namesake of their protest camp? Is it unexpected that these homeless people would believe they have been abandoned by the rest of humanity?
The city may have been issuing notices and requesting help from RCMP (the city of 75,000 is policed by RCMP). Since the time the fence around the city's property was completely breached in May, and a food dispensary and common areas were set up, many more tents arrived. The mayor capitulated to the need for toilet facilities and port-a-potty faclilities were delivered.
(During the 2010 Olympics, City of Vancouver was faced with a scenario lasting the entire span of the major sports event. A tent city of homeless people sprang up on an empty lot on East Hastings Street and was allowed to stand until the day after the 2010 Olympics. As soon as Closing Ceremonies wrapped up, athletes and organizers departed, Vancouver Police Department rolled in under cover of darkness, at 2 a.m., and rousted protesters in a lightening-like strike.)
The organizers of DisconTent City Nanaimo appear more organized, more entrenched in their demands, and less willing to back down. Mercedes Courtoreille is one of the DisconTent City Nanaimo organizers as well as a housing advocate, and she said, in response to the imminent actions of the city and police, "We are standing our ground, to make it clear that this is a safe place, and to peacefully resist the RCMP's attempt to break the camp."
DisconTent City Nanaimo has a Facebook page:
advocating their cause: "Displacement is not the answer and asking everyone to disperse back into the city only to be subjected to further harassment and the daunting and humiliating task of setting up camp every night and packing up every morning is not a solution."
A drive by confirms Courtoreille's remarks about the tent city being (relatively) "spotless." The weedy patch of broken concrete is not unkempt or strewn with garbage. She and her cohorts declare it to be internally well-run and not a refuge for criminals, and, "Emergency vehicles can access the site," she said.
DisconTent’s web page said, "Make no mistake this is an effort by the city to attempt to brush this issue off to the side so they can continue to ignore the issue which they have for years — which is why our homeless numbers have more than doubled in only two years time."
Nanaimo City Council voted to issue trespass notices, said Mayor Bill McKay. "The area is currently under siege." McKay listed concerns such as open drug use, public urination, syringes left laying around, and fires burning at night and yelling and fighting at 4 a.m.. He says his office has been inundated by calls from, "dozens of residents concerned about the tent city."
During the late winter the lawn in front of City Hall was occupied for 10 days. At that time the tent city was dismantled once the council announced spending of $350,000 to address a rather appalling drug overdose crisis in the city, and to help people who are in desperate need of affordable housing.