British Columbia

Activists set up tents in Nanaimo to pressure city on housing issues

Homeless activists set up about a dozen tents in a vacant lot in Nanaimo, B.C. Thursday in a bid to pressure the city to act faster to address housing issues.

Protesters estimate there are roughly 300 homeless in city

Activists from Nanaimo, Maple Ridge and Victoria call for Nanaimo city council to provide housing for the homeless (Liz McArthur)

Homeless activists set up about a dozen tents in a vacant lot in Nanaimo, B.C. Thursday in a bid to pressure the city to act faster to address housing issues.

Several people hung banners along a chain link fence outside the vacant, city-owned lot that sits between the waterfront and the edge of downtown.

Organizer Mercedes Courtoreille says they plan to stay until everyone at the site is housed.

"That's the idea. Why shouldn't they all get housed?"

Courtoreille and other Nanaimo residents are unhappy after the city failed to secure provincial funding in February for a modular housing project because it couldn't identify a suitable site.

RCMP officers talk with organizer Mercedes Courtoreille about the encampment as tents go up (Liz McArthur)

Courtoreille says the group will continue to pressure city council to house its homeless population.

In a 2016 count, the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition identified at least 174 people experiencing homelessness, but the activists behind the tent city say it is closer to 300. 

William Boucher has been homeless in Nanaimo for five years and took part in a protest camp in February on the lawn of city hall.

"I don't think we really made any headway or got anything changed," Boucher said. "But we certainly kind of woke the city up when it comes to how many homeless people there are and how [angry] we are.

Mike Pinder moved into the tent city Thursday. Pinder was critical of the city's recent decision to approve $100,000 for a drop-in centre, saying the money could have been used to "build an apartment building for us or something."

Mayor Bill McKay expressed safety concerns about a nearby industrial site (Liz McArthur/CBC)

Workers at a dive shop across the street watched as the tents went up.

Ashley Larocque said while she's concerned about the city's homeless situation, she's also worried about the presence of a tent city in the neighbourhood.

Larocque said she and co-workers regularly pick up garbage, needles and feces in the area. 

"We think it's quite irresponsible that they would break into another property and trespass on that property and set up something like that."

Three RCMP officers watched the tents go up and spoke with the organizers.

Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay says his council is working on several projects to house the city's homeless.

McKay said while there are no immediate plans to evict the homeless campers, there are some safety concerns because the camp is near an industrial site.