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Non-profit tries to provide warmth for unhoused people in Nanaimo after encampment dismantled

Risebridge operating warming centre downtown, asking for support and advocacy
The City of Nanaimo dismantled an encampment of people experiencing homelessness in a downtown parkade last week. (Photo courtesy Risebridge)

A Nanaimo non-profit is asking for support and advocacy as it tries to provide warmth and care to people experiencing homelessness and addiction in the downtown.

Risebridge, which operates a daytime warming centre on Terminal Avenue called Warmreach, issued a press release yesterday, Jan. 8, criticizing the City of Nanaimo after an encampment in in the Bastion Street parkade was dismantled earlier that week.

Jovan Johnson, executive director of Risebridge, said the city’s disposal of items such as tents and tarps represented “weeks of fundraising put in the garbage.”

The city, in a statement, said it did not disrupt a gathering of unsheltered people under the Bastion Street Bridge during the worst of the winter storm, but repeatedly asked people not to move into the adjacent parkade. The city says the parkade encampment grew to at least 30 people on all levels of the parkade.

“Parking pass holders reported being obstructed and harassed and expressed concern for the safety of their vehicles,” the statement noted. “Maintenance staff were unable to access areas of the parkade to clean up increasing accumulations of garbage, graffiti and human waste. Businesses in close proximity reported concerns for the safety of their staff and clients.”

Johnson said that while those living in the encampment were told on a daily basis to move along, they weren’t given notice that their possessions would be thrown out.

“It goes against everything that we’ve been trying to advocate for and the community has been trying to advocate for for years … as far as doing it with outreach teams and with community connection and collaboration,” she said.

Johnson said the city is making decisions and taking action “in a silo” when it comes to its approach to the encampments and the unhoused people living in them, and said that’s “making matters way, way worse.” She said short-term solutions and planning are needed to tackle Nanaimo’s overlapping issues of homelessness, drug use and lack of treatment options, and the rental affordability crisis.

READ ALSO: City of Nanaimo opens extreme cold weather space at Caledonia Park

Mayor Leonard Krog said in a city press release that he and his council sympathize with individuals experiencing homelessness, especially during winter, but said there has been “misinformation” regarding the city’s dismantling of the parkade encampment.

“[We] have a duty to other city residents and business owners to ensure that our city is safe, and our public lands and facilities are accessible…” Krog said. “We cannot stand by idly and allow actions that threaten public property, and the safety of our community, to take place.”

Johnson said Risebridge is out of resources and is borrowing to be able to provide the Warmreach service. She said blankets, tarps, tents, jackets, gloves and tuques are needed, and financial donations can be made via e-transfer or GoFundMe, but at the top of the list, she said, is advocacy – people asking for government support at all levels.

Risebridge started last year with a mandate to provide programs and connections for BIPOC individuals in Nanaimo, but Johnson said the non-profit pivoted to respond to a need.

“We know that there is a screaming crisis in this community, so we’ve directed most of our efforts now into Warmreach because it is where the community is calling on us the most right now,” she said.

READ ALSO: New non-profit provides programs and connections for BIPOC individuals in Nanaimo

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