Nanaimo’s Discontent City has been a hot-button issue for residents of Nanaimo since the camp was formed in May of 2018. Discontent City is a tent city set up by Nanaimo’s homeless population as a safe place for them to live, as well as raise awareness about homelessness in the city. A tent city was briefly formed at City Hall as a protest over lack of affordable housing, and shortly after that, Discontent City was illegally formed illegally on private City property. Some citizens of Nanaimo have come out in support of Discontent City and its residents, and others have come out against the community. This divide has sparked multiple protests outside of the encampment.
Recently, there have been reports of violence coming from outside and inside Discontent City. People have thrown eggs, rocks, bottles, and other objects down into Discontent City from the top of the Thrifty’s parking lot, and residents of Discontent City have been assaulted outside of the camp. Within the camp, a man was injured while trying to make a pipe bomb, along with other accounts of violence.
Amidst the arguments, protests, and violence, the voices of the individuals living in Discontent City have been lost. These are their stories.
(Some names have been changed to protect privacy.)
“Man Bun,” 24 years old, male.
“I spent five and a half months at my Mom’s place, looking for a place. We found a place that sounded perfect, we’d call from the day it was posted, there was already a 30 person lineup. And the old lady’s got a criminal record, so that voids about 85 percent of all places, and we don’t exactly present ourselves as proper as they’d hope. I don’t know, maybe they’ve just had bad experiences. I am able to work. I had my own business. I had my best friend working for me, I was paying him $18 an hour, so I was making good coin. My original boss screwed me over, he told me his old lady would take care of my books for back taxes and stuff. Two and a half years almost it was untouched, making good money, now I don’t think I’m allowed at any banks with that money, I owed 58 grand in back taxes.
I worked in flooring. I like labour work, or grunt work. I have not gone to places like Labour Unlimited yet. In all honesty, I just need to get off my ass and go to JT Hiring, or whatever it is, and they can fund me to get steel toes. I also need good transportation. I’m not allowed to drive ever because I’m epileptic. I’ve had three different kinds of seizures my whole life. I’m not on disability, and I don’t take medication. I had a seizure at work once. I hope when I find a job I can show them my work ethic and solidify myself so to speak.
I worry about my debt keeping me from finding a house, my credit’s down the drain, I don’t even know how the bank’s going to work anymore, I’m not smart like that. I talked to the bankruptcy people and they told me that’d be my best bet.
I’d say to people being hateful, that you call us the bad ones, but we’ve had rotten turkey necks thrown at us over the fence, there’s a new egg every week at least, if not every other day. We’ve had drive-by paintballers, and some firework bomb about a month ago. Nobody knows who did that. We’ve got hecklers, but they stopped since they fenced off [the upper Thrifty’s parking lot], I got thumped out up top by one of the “good ones.” Trust me, I was not out of line. I didn’t even clench a fist, so that we’d look better. The RCMP didn’t do anything, I wasn’t going to talk to them about it either. I’d like to say that the security guards sort of batted an eye at it, but I don’t know, I think there’s a few things that had to happen before that fence line came up.
My plans now are to get some steel toes and get out of here. I’d like to ask for the rednecks in their big trucks not to do peel outs through here anymore. Straight up, someone came through every drivable spot in here and spat rocks at all the tents.”
“Jojo,” 58 years old, female.
“I wanted to have somewhere to stay where I wasn’t having to tear down my tent every day. I didn’t want my things taken away from the city while I wasn’t at camp, which is what was happening before I moved here. I was homeless, me and my daughter, she stays with me. It’s safer here from that particular threat. I ended up living homeless because the last three apartments I had evicted me, because I was allowing other street people to come in and use my shower, and stay the night when it was cold out in the winter. All three times that was the reason I was asked to leave. I couldn’t bring myself to shut the door in somebody’s face because I knew what it was like to be out there. I’m on disability, I was a landscaper my whole life, but my whole right side is blown out from repetition. Workers comp doesn’t cover that. So, I went on disability five years ago.
My daughter is also on disability. For me and my daughter to go out and rent a place we’d be looking at $2000 a month to pay for basic things like power. We make $900 a month each, that’s $1800 a month between the two of us and where does life come from? Not out of that. At least here we have the bare necessities. I couldn’t hold a job. I have to stop frequently, I have back problems, knee problems, I don’t have a vehicle, and it’s hard to work when you don’t have a base. To get up in the morning and do any job would be hard, like where do I do my laundry? I’d show up looking grubby because I come from camping.
I’ve struggled with addictions my entire life. I’ve had more clean time than I haven’t, and I was really hard into it when I had to stop working. I drink more than anything else now, and it’s not fun anymore. Plus, where does the money come from? I’ve worked the streets. When I do that I’ve got to drink more because that’s just the way it is. Prostitution was the first thing I did when I couldn’t work anymore.
Would you hire me? Really? People scream from the rooftops, ‘Get a job!’ Well I say, would you hire me this morning? I wouldn’t hire me this morning. So, people need to stop saying ‘get a job,’ unless they want to give me one. Ignorance is bliss. It’s their own ignorance. They don’t know what’s going on down here, so they can only assume. They make assumptions and people generally go a negative way because shit runs down hill. They don’t know us, they don’t know our lives, and we’ve had lives like they have now, so we know what that’s about.
I don’t have any prejudice toward them. Good for them, they’re doing well. But they have it towards us; it’s harsh. The things they say about what we do down here are so far from the truth, it’s like a fairy tale. Why don’t they come down and talk to us? It blows my mind. If I was on the other side, I’d go down and talk. If I had an abundance, I’d give. There’s a lot of power and good that comes along with giving, but nothing with what they yell, it’s just hurtful.”
“KC,” 40 years old, male.
“I was living with my senior uncle and taking care of him because he fell into ill health. There’s a low rental availability here in Nanaimo and this was all I could find.
I’ve been unemployed for two years. I took the time off to help my uncle. I used to do highway and road maintenance. I can go back to work for the same company, it’s just I haven’t contacted them directly because of my situation, and the season is running low now. I have social anxiety disorder, my doctor prescribed me medication for that, so I’ve been taking it, and it’s been beneficial.
I want to make sure that my uncle’s alright so I can’t go back to work. He lives in a one-bedroom, and his landlord doesn’t want me living there. I have zero income, I just barter things that I have that I’ve had for a long time. I spend about six hours a day caring for my uncle. It’s not compatible with a job at this time. The hours just don’t fit together. I figure I’m pretty physically fit, and mentally fit, and I can communicate well enough that I don’t find any problems in here.
There are people with ill health here who lash out. That’s a part of society, they’re no different than anyone else. I was an alcoholic when I was very young, now I haven’t had a drink in over two and half years. I have no trouble staying sober, I know I have to stay sober because of my sanity. There’s not too many people around here who are able to care for themselves or others, so I wouldn’t put myself in jeopardy like that. I’m just trying to find housing now. When I know myself to be secure I can go back to work. Everyone here is part of the community just like any other neighbourhood. Eventually, everyone will be reintegrated back into other neighbourhoods like everyone else.”
“Hope,” 20 years old, female.
“Honestly, I’ve only been homeless for two or three months now. Before that I was couchsurfing, so I don’t really count that as homelessness. I became homeless because of high rent. Also, I was being supported by my boyfriend before we broke up.
I had turned 19, and the Ministry [of Children and Youth Services] is my parents, and they supported me with financial stuff, but that stopped when I turned 19. The reason I’m at Discontent City is because bylaw was moving me all around from other camps I was staying in around Nanaimo. There were a few other campsites we were staying at, but they didn’t like us there because of the fire hazards. So then they told us we needed to move out past city limits toward Ladysmith. Either that way, or we had to go to Discontent City.
I didn’t really want to come down here because I didn’t hear the best stories about it. And who wants to live at Discontent City? I don’t have a job. I could have had a job. I did the Bladerunners Program, it’s a career program where you get all your tickets and such, like WHMIS [Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System], Food Safe, First Aid, and they give you a job at the end of it. They pay you $150 a week to go to the program, it’s a two-week program, I did it in the summer when my daughter was about one year old. They ended up giving the only mom in the group, sadly, a volunteer job. I was only in the job two weeks after that.
I could have a job, there’s no reason I couldn’t have a job. I just lack experience because the jobs I did have were under the table. I feel that you shouldn’t have to work your ass off until you’re dead and tired, or your body’s worn from all the work by the time you’re older. I feel like you should just be able to live your life the way you want to instead of working to pretty much die.
I’m going to get a job eventually, maybe I’d like to be a bartender. Or have my own little shop, that’s like a mixture of different kinds of shops. Or maybe a daycare or something. That was my idea because then my daughter could have been around me in daycare. I use drugs, but that’s not the reason why I’m here. It’s not preventing me from doing anything. I’m definitely planning on going to treatment so I can get my daughter back and get my life back into shape, but I would not say that I am homeless because of drugs. That is not the reason.
We’re all human, we’re all people that love, and care, and hate, and we all live our lives the way that we choose to. We all learn, and we all have blood and organs, and we’re all equal. I don’t think anyone should be treated differently. I’ve met many poor and homeless people that are way more talented than famous people. It makes me sick when people think we’re disgusting because we’re just like everyone else. The people here who have nothing are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
There’s just so much I could say, but what I really want to say is, would you rather us be out on the streets, and sleeping on the side of the roads? This place is our safe place. How would you feel if we went into your home, took your things, told you that you couldn’t live there, or live the way you want to live? You’d hate that. I hope that I change someone’s outlook on Discontent City. A lot of people aren’t here because they do drugs. A lot of these people are here because they have disabilities or because they don’t have people to love or help support them in their lives. We’re not all shitty people, you know?”
Managing Editor Cole is a fourth-year creative writing student with a focus in journalism and scriptwriting. He was shortlisted for the 2018 Fraser MacDougall Prize for Best New Voice in Human Rights Reporting. Cole sits on the board of directors for CHLY and hosts the Kinetic Flow, a hip-hop program on the station. He is also the editor of the VIU Compass. This is his second year as Managing Editor of The Nav.View all articles