Nanaimo tent city campers given a week’s reprieve

DisconTent City campers have received a one-week reprieve from a court order saying they must leave city-owned land in Nanaimo.

The city has decided to postpone closing the five-month-old encampment until a legal ruling is issued on an application from campers who want to stay until late November.

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Lawyer Noah Ross, acting for tent-city residents Cori Mitchell, Rod Boisclair and Rob Barker, is scheduled to appear in B.C. Supreme Court at 9 a.m. on Oct. 19. He is seeking an extension to an earlier Supreme Court order that the tenters move out by midnight Friday, Oct. 12.

Ross welcomed the city’s decision, which followed an in-camera council meeting Friday. “We are very glad to hear that is happening,” he said, adding he is disappointed that the city hasn’t decided to keep the encampment open until housing is available to them.

Tenters at 1 Port Dr. in Nanaimo want to be able to stay at the campsite until 170 units of modular supportive housing, provided by the province, arrive and are installed in the city. That’s expected to happen in late November.

The province is also working on lining up rental market accommodation, backed by rental supplements, for up to 50 homeless residents.

“It’s good for the campers to know that there is at least a week more, but it still keeps them in an uncertain situation where they don’t really know if they are going to have to pack up or not in a week,” Ross aid.

He does not know if a decision would be made immediately or if the judge will take time to consider it.

Nanaimo will file a response in court on Tuesday to Ross’s application, Mayor Bill McKay said.

“The city is respecting the court’s need to consider the application and will defer the existing court order for closure until the outcome of the application is known,” he said.

Nanaimo still wants to see the camp closed, he said.

“Public safety continues to be the city’s No. 1 priority.”

The city is committed to a phased approach to closing the camp that is respectful and compassionate, McKay said.

The city’s fire department command centre will be on nearby Esplande Street, along with tents staffed by a range of social-service providers, including some contracted by B.C. Housing, he said.

Officials are continuing with plans to clean up the property and remove fire hazards, such as containers of gasoline and propane, McKay said.

Nanaimo is calling on the province to pay for full-time security at the camp, McKay said. “We have to respect the judge’s order that no new occupants can go into that site.”

The provincial government has been calling on Nanaimo to permit campers to stay at tent city until housing is available.

The province was backed Friday by a letter signed by dozens of officials from churches, social service agencies and universities on Vancouver Island and the mainland calling for the tent city to stay open until housing is in place.

“Municipal councils cannot address these pressing social issues alone and yet they face them daily as they show up at the local level within our community,” said the letter, signed by 70 people.

“This is why it is so important to align your commitments with provincial and federal strategies to address homelessness when you can, and this is an opportunity to do that.”

Jason Harrison, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s mid-Island branch, said in a statement that pushing the campers into the streets is dangerous for them and disruptive and will further stress community services that are at, or over, capacity.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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