Homeless camp at Nanaimo City Hall is growing fast


WATCH: The homeless camp that’s sprung up around Nanaimo City Hall has tripled in size so far and more people are expected. The protest is in response to the city voting against the construction of new housing for homeless on Extension Road after public outcry that it was too close to an elementary school.

More tents went up around Nanaimo City Hall Tuesday as homeless people from across the city brought their need for housing to the doorstep of elected officials.

“The camp has grown overnight for sure,” said Gina Watson, a homeless woman who organized the protest. “Last night, that’s when they came in.”

And more people are said to be on the way. All the people in the tent city are refusing to leave until they get the housing they’re demanding.

“I went homeless because I can’t afford to house,” said Jessie Vanaert.

Vanaert says she’s been homeless for two-and-a-half months and is desperate to find a place so she can get her four kids out of foster care.

“I haven’t seen them in a month because I am homeless,” said Vanaert. “And the only thing I have to comfort myself is drugs. So if my kids are able to see this, mom loves you and I’m doing what I can for you guys.”

The growth of the camp that first sprang up on Monday has officials concerned. They are assuring the tent city’s organizers that their needs are being heard. Matt O’Donnell says if they are not, the camp will grow and potentially the several hundred homeless people living in Nanaimo could soon be on the lawns of Nanaimo City Hall.

“My estimates have it a little over 500 [people],” said community advocate Matt O’Donnell. “So I mean we could use that as a scale of how large this could grow if our elected officials don’t do something about it.”

Yet already the protest seems to be spurring action. An emergency meeting was held Tuesday between city staff, the Nanaimo fire dep and RCMP to hash out a plan and stop the camp from growing any bigger. Talks are now underway to fast-track funding for a drop-in centre for the homeless. That funding that could be approved as soon as Wednesday.

“Council’s very concerned about it,” said Karen Fry, Nanaimo’s director of public safety. “And they are focused on a resolution and getting through this as quickly as possible.”

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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