It’s not new for residents of Vancouver Island to see homeless people camped in tents around their communities.
Last summer, Nanaimo’s Discontent City was home to over 200 people. At the time, bylaw officers were giving homeless people a choice: relocate to Discontent City, or setup outside of Nanaimo city limits. Many chose Discontent City because of its close proximity to services in downtown Nanaimo.
Prior to arriving at Discontent City, more than one resident complained of being made to relocate several times in a night. They would have to gather all their belongings in the middle of the night, relocate to another spot, finally get back to sleep, then be made to move all over again. They also told stories of being victimized by violent crimes while staying in places like Colliery Dam, Bowen park, and Divers Lake park. Violence from the community against homeless people continued in Discontent City. Campers were regularly hit by flying debris that included eggs, rotten turkey necks, rocks, and glass bottles. One of the Discontent City organizers had a man accost her in the street and spit directly in her face.
Recently, homelessness has become more visible in Ladysmith. A group was camped on private land by Rocky Creek Road. After being made to move, they settled along the E&N rail tracks. The Town of Ladysmith and RCMP asked them to move again. Although they have been moved, that doesn’t mean that the issue of homelessness has been solved, it just means that Ladysmith’s homeless population has moved.
There are some available options for dealing with the issue of homelessness. The government can create modular housing for those most in need, like the units built in Nanaimo in the wake of Discontent City. Some homeless people will choose not to live in these units, and take their chances elsewhere instead. Homeless people can choose to camp in less populated areas, or deeper in the forest so they won’t be relocated. This is not ideal, as it puts them further away from services, and increases risks of injury, theft, and assault, which homeless people are already affected by.
While the options for addressing the homelessness issue are varied, there is one change key change that will alleviate the symptoms of the issue: compassion. Homeless people are some of the most vulnerable people in the community, yet they face some of the worst vitriol and hatred in the community. This is unacceptable. People can express concern about homelessness without resorting to hateful and dehumanizing comments.
Whether homeless or home owner, the community is shared by all, and every community member should be treated with respect and dignity.