Nanaimo tent city lawyer seeks to change ruling that would force campers out

Uncertainty surrounds Nanaimo’s tent city as local officials talk of taking a phased approach to closing it at the same time a B.C. Supreme Court judge has ordered residents to move out today.

Noah Ross, a lawyer for the tent city, hopes to be in court early next week to seek an extension of today’s move-out date, established in a September decision.

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The order was largely based on public safety and fire risks at the camp.

Ross will ask that tenters be allowed to stay at the site, known as DisconTent City, until the end of November, when the province will have 170 units of temporary modular supportive housing in place.

Amber McGrath, tent-city advocate and member of the Alliance Against Displacement, said a city official told her anyone attempting to stop city efforts to clean up the site this weekend would be arrested. She figures at least 300 people are living at the camp. “I think they are going to remove a good portion of [tenters].” People who have places to go out of town are being offered bus tickets, she said.

RCMP Const. Gary O’Brien said the focus is on a “measured” and “phased” approach, starting with cleaning up the property and moving out old vehicles, rather than removing all the tenters.

“There is nothing in place with regards to enforcement components to remove all of the tenters effective Oct. 12 when the injunction kicks in.”

Police want to treat people “with the utmost dignity, because it is not against the law to be homeless,” he said.

Mayor Bill McKay has said the city plans to “go in and manage” the camp.

Council has always preferred “an organized, pragmatic take-down of that site and respecting the fact that we are dealing with people, pure and simple,” he said. “They have been self-governing. We’ve not been in there managing it but we are going to go in there and start managing it after the court date.”

The city aims to co-ordinate with provincial agencies delivering social services, McKay said, “so people aren’t tripping over each other.”

In a statement, B.C.’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing called for a phased approach to the closure, including increased security and monitoring of the camp until the new temporary housing is open.

“Any other approach is not in the best interest of the community as a whole or the campers, as it would force the campers to scatter throughout the city while they wait for housing.”

In addition to the 170 housing units, the province anticipates lining up another 40 to 50 rental apartments, with rental supplements, for campers.

Modular structures are scheduled to arrive in Nanaimo late next week, although it will take until late November to get them ready for tenants.

Meanwhile, a set of tents has been erected on Nanaimo’s Esplanade Street to provide resources to homeless citizens between noon and 5 p.m. daily.

It is staffed with social services providers, including B.C. Housing personnel and outreach workers from Pacifica Housing, who are helping with applications for supportive housing.

Nanaimo Fire Chief Karen Fry said the plan is to first tackle vehicles and materials that represent fire-safety concerns, including propane and gasoline containers inside and outside tents.

The aim is to make the site safer during the transition, she said.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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