A B.C. Supreme Court judge has given campers at Nanimo’s Discontent City homeless camp 21 days to clear out.
The court granted the City of Nanaimo an injunction on Friday, after months of debate and sometimes heated protests over the the site.
“Given the length of time that the tent city has been in place, and the precarious circumstance of many of the residents, it is important that the dismantling occur in an orderly and sensitive fashion,” said the the 38-page decision, penned by Justice Ronald Skolrood.
“And in a time frame that permits people to look for suitable alternative accommodation.”
The ruling drew swift condemnation from campers and supporters, who argued that the three-week order would leave many with nowhere to go.
“I think that they’re sentencing all of the homeless people in this camp to a death sentence,” camper Melissa Burkhart told Global News.
“The only talk of alternative housing that was provided is for people to go into parks,” said lawyer Noah Ross. “That’s not an acceptable solution.”
About 300 people are estimated to be living in the camp, which has been in place since May 17.
Nanaimo city council passed a motion back in May in an effort to evict the camp, and there were several confrontational demonstrations between residents and locals over the summer.
“Hopefully, everybody is going to cooperate and they’re going to accept the help that is being offered to them,” Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said on Friday.
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The injunction came just a week after homeless campers in another Vancouver Island tent city, Camp Namegans in Saanich, were ordered to clear out.
Those campers have since taken up residence in Goldstream Provincial Park, sparking controversy with neighbours there.
The province has given those campers a stay of eviction until housing solutions can be found.
But there’s no clear path to that housing yet in place.
The province has pledged to build 2,000 units of temporary modular housing across the province, but the process requires municipalities to step up with applications and offers of land in order to move forward.
“What am I supposed to do?” said Stewart Young, mayor of nearby Langford.
“I can’t even get a rezoning if I tried right now and say, ‘We’re going to move all those people that have caused all that crime and doing those drugs into Langford near a school.’ It’s going to be a hard sell.”
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Moving campers off the street is not impossible.
In Victoria, a controversial tent city outside the city’s courthouse was shut down in 2016, and housing was offered to the residents in a pair of provincially-owned housing complexes.
“Together, in those two programs, it was 173 people that got housed,” said Our Place Society executive director Don Evans.
“But what we’re seeing today is people are just being displaced.”
Whether a similar solution can be found for the residents of the tent cities in Nanaimo and Saanich remains unclear.