Backyard soup kitchen in Nanaimo faces eviction
Nanaimo’s Stone Soup celebrated its first anniversary Sunday night, and Monday morning volunteers began tearing down the wood structure of their soup kitchen under threat of eviction.
For a year, volunteers have offered soup to as many as 160 people every night in Tanya and Doug Hiltz’s backyard.
For much of the first year, the Hiltzes operated out of a tent, but a construction company donated the time and materials to build a full kitchen in the fall of 2018.
By the end of February, someone complained about the soup kitchen, and the City of Nanaimo ordered a teardown of the structure, saying a building permit had never been issued.
“It’d be devastating,” said a diner at the soup kitchen’s anniversary party who didn’t wish to provide his name.
“We’re already starving. We’d have to go hungry even more.”
“They’ll go without, they’ll get sick because now they’ve come to rely on the nutritious meal every night,” said Tanya.
She says many of the Stone Soup clients have mental health or addictions issues and can’t afford the $2 charged by another local option.
“Meals are few and far between,” she said.
The City of Nanaimo’s director of community development says he understands that Stone Soup developed organically and out of good intentions.
“But at the end of the day, we have this responsibility to make sure that the structures that are built in our community are safe, that they meet the life safety standards, that they’re safe for people that are using them and safe for the broader community,” said Dale Lindsay.
The need in the small city of Nanaimo is acute — 80 people died of drug overdoses in 2017-18.
In May, a tent city sprang up in a local parking lot and soon became the biggest in British Columbia, housing about 300 people.
After much controversy and a long court battle, it was eventually shut down. Lindsay cites the city’s move to provide land for housing in that case as evidence it’s trying to address the needs in the community.
But in this case, the city isn’t working with Stone Soup. Lindsay says there are other options to save the soup kitchen, including the landowner applying for a permit for the structure.
That doesn’t seem likely. The Hiltzes have rented their property for seven years, and even if they tear down the kitchen, a letter from their landlord said he was going to kick them out for breaking their lease.
The landlord did not respond to interview requests from Global News.
Stone Soup is named for the fable about people pitching in with whatever they can to help.
The idea of “everybody getting together, getting a little bit of something to create a big something” was appealing to volunteer Ken Osborn.
“I got vacation pay at my work so what did I do? I buy 9,600 bowls. Eighteen boxes of bowls…so there’s enough bowls to feed thousands of people coming through here. And it’s not very much out of my pocket to do it but it helps out here,” said Osborn.
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Paul Roland Gogo, the keyboardist for Canadian rock band Trooper, is one of Stone Soup’s supporters, and for the musician, giving what he can involves hosting and performing at fundraisers over the past year.
“I go by God’s law more than man’s law,” Gogo told Global News. “And God says we should love one another and we should work together and we should feed each other. And if man’s law has a couple of speedbumps in the way, let’s iron them out and keep this going.”
For the scrappy group of nearly two dozen volunteers, ironing out speedbumps means tearing down the wooden structure and reverting to a tent.
“I’ve been reading the bylaws all night last night. This tent is not classified as a structure. It’s a tent; it’s not made of wood,” said Tanya.
But it’s not a solution that’s guaranteed to work. The city won’t say whether that option will be allowed, and the Hiltzes are still worried about being evicted.
“It gets back to more than just the structure of a tent,” said Lindsay.
“Normally, if you’re providing food service to people, there’s a bunch of other requirements and regulations that are necessary. Normally, you would have washrooms, for example…but until we had an application in front of us, it’s very difficult for us to comment on what would be permitted.”
Those behind Stone Soup aren’t giving up, serving meals even as they tear down the structure. Tanya is pleading with everyone who cares about their struggle to write a letter to the mayor of Nanaimo.
During the soup kitchen’s anniversary party, Gogo sang an adapted version of Happy Birthday that hammered home that determination.
“Happy birthday, Stone Soup. This is our first one but there’s going to be a second one,” he crooned. “Until the day that there’s no need…there will be Stone Soup — see you there.”
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