Municipal water is being provided to informal settlers in downtown Nanaimo’s tent city.
Nanaimo city workers installed a water pipeline to Discontent City, located at Port Drive, on Thursday morning (July 12). The pipeline will provide fresh drinking water to the more than 200 individuals who call the makeshift campsite home. The city has also provided Discontent City with three additional portable toilets, bringing the total number on site to five.
The move comes after city council rejected an order from Vancouver Island Health Authority to provide flowing potable municipal water, additional portable toilets and hand sanitizing stations to Discontent City by July 10.
The City of Nanaimo is installing a water line to Discontent City. 2.54 cm diameter line will supply fresh water to the camp residents. #Nanaimo #Tentcity #Discontentcity @NanaimoBulletin pic.twitter.com/VGjqMHdnD6
— Nanaimo Bulletin (@NanaimoBulletin) July 12, 2018
Glenn Cook, city water distribution foreman at the scene, confirmed that a 2.54-centimetre diametre water pipeline has been connected and water was flowing to the camp as of 10:45 a.m. Thursday.
“It’s a one-inch service, so it’s like having a one-inch service to your house and then we plumbed it into where their kitchen facilities are and they can use fresh water now and it will provide them with clean drinking water from city services,” he said.
Cook said the city also collects about 50 to 70 garbage bags, which are piled up at the front gate of Discontent City daily. He also noted that he and other city workers, in his experience, are always treated with respect by most of the tent city residents they encounter.
Nanaimo RCMP Bike Patrol members were on standby at the camp while municipal workers, including Cook, installed the water pipeline.
“It’s something they should have done a long time ago,” said Ed Bryans, camp resident. “It’s a health issue and fire safety issue just not having the water.”
Bryans said until Thursday morning, the campers had to refill a large tank near the kitchen area, allowing them to wash dishes and other items and have relied on water donations.
“We were walking up the street to get water, filling jugs up,” said Sharkey Williams, camp resident. “There’s two houses just up the street, about a block away, that we’d go and fill our jugs up at. They said we had permission to fill as many jugs up as we want, whenever we want, so that was cool of them to give us that, but it’s nice that we have our own water coming in now, for sure.”
However, not everyone is pleased to see the tent city being serviced.
“These neighbours are invading me on a regular basis, stealing my plants and doing their drugs in my property,” said Blake McGuffie, a former city councillor who has lived on Esplanade Street for 35 years.
Other problems McGuffie cited included an area behind a trash dumpster on his property being used as a place where people urinate and discarding of used needles.
“It was very periodic before. Now it’s a regular occurrence,” he said.
Colleen Moore, another resident who recently moved to Esplanade, said she is upset at the city’s sudden reversal.
“The whole neighbourhood is complaining of increased crime. My fear is, the mayor said he wouldn’t put in this pipeline. He’s capitulated and given in. Now my fear is that this is going to wind up being a permanent site,” she said. “That’s my concern.”
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said he could not comment on the situation at this time.
Coun. Jerry Hong said he completely disagrees with the city providing additional services such as water. He said two portable toilets was sufficient for the site and disagrees VIHA’s position that the city must add more toilets.
“Our contractor hasn’t come to us and said that the toilets are overflowing or are disgusting,” he said. “I drive by there and I don’t see any lineups, so if it smells like pee, then they are just peeing and not using the toilets. So, I don’t see the rationale for us to provide any more toilets.”
Hong said the camp has not helped the homelessness issue in Nanaimo, but has instead made it worse by attracting more homeless people from other communities to the city.
“This has nothing to do with our issue of helping homeless in Nanaimo,” he said. “I might sound mean or cruel, but I am not interested in helping the rest of the world’s homeless issues. I want to take care of the residents of Nanaimo.”