Gina Watson and Xan Beauchamp were among homeless people and advocates who camped out on the front lawn of Nanaimo city hall Monday to protest lack of housing and facilities for the city’s homeless population. (CHRIS BUSH/News Bulletin)

Tent city group tells Nanaimo they will remain for as long as it takes

Camp-out on city hall’s front lawn demanding supportive housing, supervised consumption site

Nanaimo councillors had a chance to meet right away with some of the organizers of the tent city that sprang up Monday on city hall grounds.

Matthew O’Donnell, a spokesman for the camp-out, was joined by members of the Society of Living Illicit Drug users in addressing councillors at a City of Nanaimo committee of the whole meeting Monday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

A camp-out formed Monday morning on city hall’s front lawn, populated by homeless people but also advocates.

“What you’re seeing on the front lawn of city hall is a very, very small percentage of a massive issue that’s happening here in Nanaimo,” O’Donnell said. “We have a homeless crisis here, we have an opioid crisis here and while they are two separate issues, they are very much connected.”

Kevin Donaghy, volunteer with SOLID, told councillors they dropped the ball on the supportive housing project that had been planned in Chase River.

“Housing is an integral first step in people being able to address other issues in their lives,” Dohaghy said.

O’Donnell said his group is asking for urgent action on issues facing people who are experiencing homelessness. He asked for movement on the supportive housing file, a permanent supervised consumption site and a drop-in centre where homeless people can go.

“How long do you intend, Matt, to have the awareness program on our front lawn?” asked Coun. Bill Bestwick; O’Donnell replied it would remain until his group sees action and movement on its requests.

Dale Lindsay, city director of community development, reminded councillors that they had already motioned for staff to look at other sites for supportive housing, and Coun. Gord Fuller added that “there is money available for the drop-in centre, which is what the homeless coalition is looking at … they’re working on that one.”

Fuller said it’s all going to take time and it’s not going to happen tomorrow.

“Throw more tents up on the city hall…” he added facetiously. “Let’s get a port-a-potty for them tomorrow. We can keep working on this and they can keep camping at city hall.”

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he’s not in favour of supplying conveniences to those camping at city hall and said he’s not comfortable feeling as though he’s “being held hostage to make quick decisions.”

He reiterated that council has provided direction to staff on a number of the issues raised such as supportive housing.

“They are looking for land, we’re pursuing that, we’re working on the needle problem which we all acknowledge, and I think staff is clear on what we want them to try and come up with,” Thorpe said.

The topic of needles on school grounds had been raised by the previous delegation and the two discussions overlapped. It led to councillors changing the subject away from the homeless camp and voting unanimously for city staff to meet with school district staff over shared safety concerns. No motion was made relating to the tent city.

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