NANAIMO — Supporters of Nanaimo’s DisconTent City rallied Tuesday, declaring their determination keep their community embedded on a chunk of fenced municipal land that they say keeps them safe.
The City of Nanaimo used B.C.’s Trespass Act to order everyone off the 1 Port Dr. site by 9 a.m. Tuesday, warning it could apply for a court injunction if people didn’t move.
No one at the tent city blinked.
The city chose to avoid a confrontation and the approximately 45 tents remained.
“It was never the city’s intention to get in a fight with anyone,” said Mayor Bill McKay.
He said he recognizes that people face issues that have led to homelessness and that there is a shortage of supportive housing. But if people don’t move, the city will seek a court injunction, McKay said at his city hall office.
Tickets will be issued to residents under the Trespass Act, he said.
“We want them to vacate the site but we want to take progressive steps. We certainly don’t want to give them the impression that we are interested in doing battle with them.”
So the tents sit on sloping industrial land near Nanaimo Harbour, where activists have carved at least another day, possibly more, on the site.
About 80 people surrounded tent city advocate Ivan Drury when he spoke at the rally. He advised cheering supporters to link arms and stand fast if RCMP showed up. The goal is to “make sure we are immovable object,” he said.
The prospect of police showing up is an attempt to intimidate people, he said. “It’s different this time. This time there is a big group of people who will defend each other. And the eyes of Nanaimo and the eyes of Canada and the eyes of the world are on what the police do at this point.
“So that means that we need to have courage and stand with each other.”
Tent city residents have the right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to remain “to hold this site as a matter of safety and dignity for homeless people who are here,” he said.
Drury led chants of: “Homes not shelters. Homes not jails. Homes not displacement. Homes not police. Homes not hate.”
Tent city resident Brittany Wolfe, 25, said she has been living outdoors on and off for about three years. “I am definitely not one of those people who chose to live outdoors and want to live outdoors.”
She survives by panhandling and picking up odd jobs such as landscaping.
A frail-looking Darcy Foley, 51, said he can’t find a place that he can afford while on social assistance. He said his bones are fragile and that some have broken.
Foley said he feels safe at the tent city. “This is the first time I can say my stuff has not been touched. This community they have got here has been surprisingly safe.”
He has slept outdoors, only to lose his property, he said. “I have woken up and everything was stolen from underneath me.”
The tent city highlights divisions among Nanaimo citizens.
Many drivers honked their support while passing by.
Arbutus Books owner Dyane Brown went to the rally, holding a sign saying, “Let them stay.”
“There is no other safe place for people to stay in Nanaimo and when they move them out of here, where are they going to go?
“I have seen young women sleeping the bushes in Nanaimo. That is not safe. Here there is a sense of community and a positive spirit and I want to support that.”
But by mid-morning, just over 40 people lined the parking lot at the top of a nearby mall, firing off catcalls to the tent-city residents below. Critics said there are drugs at tent city, that crime has increased in the area, and that some of the residents could find jobs if they wanted to.
One man on the rooftop hollered, “You’ve got no claim — keeping walking.”
Several Nanaimo residents who came to see what was happening offered their perspectives.
Lonny Thompson said she had been an addict 15 to 20 years ago and spent time on the street. She credits tough love from daughter Stacey Cotton for getting her into treatment.
“They are just saying that we don’t have compassion for them and all this kind of stuff,” Thompson said. “Most of them don’t want help. They want everything given to them. I have compassion for the people that really want the help.”
Janice Armstrong said: “I’m divided in my thoughts on this issue. Definitely support the homeless and the message this group is trying to impart, but don’t necessarily support how they are delivering the message.”
She said there are “professional protesters” at the site.
Patrick Coles Owen said more housing and more resources are needed to help those with mental health problems. Someone is better able to find a job if they have a place they are settled in that allows them to be clean and organized, he said. “Unfortunately there are not enough shelter spots."