A protest camp will stay on city hall’s front lawn until at least next week when city council votes on funding proposed for programs and facilities for Nanaimo’s homeless. (CHRIS BUSH/Nanaimo News Bulletin)

A protest camp will stay on city hall’s front lawn until at least next week when city council votes on funding proposed for programs and facilities for Nanaimo’s homeless. (CHRIS BUSH/Nanaimo News Bulletin)

Campers optimistic about city’s efforts, but tents remain

Protesters to stay put until city votes on proposed measures including $250,000 drop-in centre

Word of $250,000 proposed for a drop-in centre and other programs for Nanaimo’s homeless people made for slightly happier campers who pitched tents on Nanaimo city hall’s front lawn earlier this week.

A growing number of people have been camping on the city hall front lawn since Monday to protest lack of facilities and programs for the city’s homeless population.

RELATED: Councillors hear demands from tent city representatives

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City councillors, at the City of Nanaimo’s finance and audit committee meeting Wednesday, recommended a series of responses to social issues downtown. A city staff report proposed initiatives such as a daytime drop-in centre for homeless people, continued support for the extreme weather shelter, provision of rent supplements through the Housing First program, and portable toilets downtown. Staff recommended that the measures be complemented by additional safe syringe disposal boxes, additional garbage cans, expanded daytime security, and more money for the urban cleanup initiative.

“They’re going to increase needle disposal boxes downtown, increase garbage, increase security patrols. On top of that we’re going to have a drop-in centre,” said Matthew O’Donnell, spokesman for the camp-out. “They’ve been talking about a drop-in centre for a long time, but now they’re getting serious about it.”

He said the drop-in centre could provide facilities such as treatment for wounds, overdose supplies and tenancy advocacy workers to help people get into housing.

The proposal follows a city committee of the whole meeting Monday when O’Donnell and members of homeless advocacy group Society of Living Illicit Drug users aired grievances Monday.

Mayor Bill McKay said Wednesday part of the issue is people in Nanaimo’s homeless community want to be assured the city is actually listening to them and taking action, following the recent loss of $7.25 million in provincial money to build a 44-unit housing complex in Chase River.

“It appears to me that they’ve now been almost completely satisfied with all of the information that they were looking for,“ McKay said. “They were looking for information. They want action. Not more meetings. Not more dialogue. Just get on with something.”

He said Wednesday’s finance and audit meeting show a significant commitment by city council to move forward and there were multiple suggestions and ideas put forward to “provide them with services where they’re allowed some dignity…”

“The former premier [Mike] Harcourt said every one of us is either a job, an illness or a relationship away from needing their community’s help and we always do so much better when we’re working together as a community than trying to do it alone,” McKay said.

By Wednesday afternoon there were about a dozen tents and at least as many campers at city hall and city bylaws officers were on hand following up on a complaint of illicit drug use on site and of people urinating on trees. The city brought a port-a-potty for the protesters Wednesday as well.

O’Donnell said the camp will remain until Tuesday, March 20, at least, depending on whether city council approves the $250,000 in funding at its meeting the night before.

“A positive movement over the last couple of days, thanks to this tent city and, we’re hopeful that come this Monday at the Nanaimo city council meeting, what they discussed today at the finance meeting will go through and if everything goes through next Monday then we can discuss our next step and how to resolve this situation so it’s positive for everybody,” O’Donnell said.

McKay said he would not be comfortable with the camp remaining on city hall’s front lawn for very long.

“The longer you leave it, the harder it is to extricate it,” he said, citing the tent city established for 10 months in 2015 and 2016 next to the courthouse in Victoria. “These folks, they don’t want to be here. They want to be in a housing unit somewhere, to be honest with you, and so we have to look at every avenue to create new housing units in Nanaimo and supports for them.”


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