New homeless camp called Discontent City gets set up in Nanaimo

People experiencing homelessness in Nanaimo plan to resist requests that they move along

People experiencing homeless in Nanaimo are setting up a new tent city, called Discontent City, on south downtown waterfront land. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

People experiencing homelessness in Nanaimo plan to resist requests that they move along.

A new tent city, called Discontent City, is being set up on land on the south downtown waterfront at the corner of Esplanade and Front Street.

Mercedes Courtoreille, an advocate who camped at the tent city at Nanaimo city hall earlier this year, read out a declaration this afternoon at the site.

“We are taking unused city-owned property to protect ourselves against the hostility of the government and property owners because we experience safety in numbers, and to improve our lives and better contribute to the community that we love,” she said.

The camp is called Discontent City “because we have had enough of false promises from B.C. Housing when they talk about ending homelessness but only open wintertime shelters to warehouse the homeless out of public view.”

The declaration calls for the provision of drinking water, washroom facilities and garbage collection at the site and asks that the land there become dedicated property for social housing. The location for the new tent city was chosen, Courtoreille said, 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.”

There is also a call from those at the protest to be perceived and treated as equal to others. There were complaints that homeless people are not allowed to so much as sit on a mall or park bench without being asked to move by security.

“We’re not even allowed to walk around downtown without being looked at like we’re a bunch of parasites … we’re not even sitting on a park bench for more than 30 seconds when we’ve got security from the mall … telling us to go away,” said Mike Pindar. “We go into public parks and sit under a tree and we get asked to leave because of people in the city who want to use the park. Well, I grew up in this city. I was born in this [expletive] city and I can’t use the parks that are here?”

Not having a safe and secure place to sleep is another issue. Pindar said he has also been attacked at night and even had his shoes stolen from him in the winter.

“Just this last week alone I’ve lost everything that I have twice – and I started with an empty pack sack this morning – while I was sleeping,” Pindar said.

A successful outcome from the Discontent City protest, he said, would be if the city took the money earmarked for a homeless drop-in centre and applied it to building permanent housing for the homeless.

Supporting the set-up of the camp and showing solidarity were representatives from the Alliance Against Displacement and other tent cities in B.C.

Eva Bardonnex, a former resident Cliff Avenue and Anita Place homeless camps in Maple Ridge, was among the group establishing Discontent City.

“I was part of Cliff Avenue from the beginning till the end,” Bardonnex said. “At Anita Place I was freshly homeless again when they started up again and I was like, thank you, because at least then I was in a group. I knew I wasn’t going to be by myself. I wasn’t going to be picked on. I wasn’t gonna have my stuff robbed every day. Maybe once in a blue moon, but that’s a lot better than being down on the river by myself.”

Nanaimo RCMP Bicycle Patrol Unit members were on scene observing as protestors established Discontent City. Cpl. Dave Laberge said he expects the protest camp could get much larger than the 20 or so tents set up Thursday, based on a recently homeless count, which tallied more than 300 homeless.

“I think what we’re hearing from the homeless population is that there’s a real and immediate need for housing and this is how it’s manifesting,” Laberge said.

He said people have been moved from public places by police and security regularly, but unless there are a number of complaints, people are for the most part left be so long as their campsites remain “small, benign and don’t accumulate a lot of rubbish.”

“It’s a difficult challenge because public spaces are for the enjoyment of everybody and there’s well-established case law in the province that people can take shelter in public places, which people have certainly been permitted to do, but that means temporary cover from the elements at night that has to be taken down. When it grow into the scope and scale of large tent cities with open latrines that are disrupting the habitat and programs of public spaces then that’s I think when the city and then the police have come and asked folks to move along.”

RELATED: Homeless campers ordered to vacate Nanaimo city hall

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