For the last seven months, Erik Christiansen has called a patch of dirt under Nanaimo’s Pearson Bridge his home.
In recent weeks the number of tents and people living under the Pearson Bridge has increased. Today, there are three tents that occupy the area under the bridge, which is visible to those who use the Habourfront Walkway or the Millstone Trailway.
“It just grew in the last couple of weeks,” Christiansen said. “Before that it was just me and my girlfriend and one tent.”
Christiansen, originally from Seattle, came to the Harbour City from the Lower Mainland back in August. He said he decided to set up a tent under the Pearson Bridge for a number of reasons.
“I want people to see me,” he said. “It’s not just going to go away. The homeless issue is not going away. You can’t sweep it under the carpet.”
Another reason for setting up under the bridge is due to the fact that the land is provincial and not municipal, which makes evicting Christiansen and the other tent city residents difficult.
“I knew that this was going to be a loophole,” Christiansen said.
He said the city tried to get him to leave, even giving littering tickets.
John Horn, social planner with the City of Nanaimo, said the city is well aware of the tents under the Pearson Bridge, adding that there isn’t much they can do and that city has been in touch with the provincial government.
“We are keenly aware of it,” Horn said.
Last year the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that homeless people have the right to sleep in parks. The courts struck down a bylaw in Abbotsford, which forbid anyone from establishing temporary shelter in city parks.
Horn said Nanaimo is working toward complying with that ruling, but added there are still issues to be worked out such as ensuring there are no conflicts between users and those camping out.
“If you allow camping on a site, say a municipal park, if it is 6 a.m. and the yoga club shows up to do their regime on that site and there are people camping on that site, does that invite a conflict between those user groups? We are sorting through some of those things,” Horn said.
Finding affordable housing or places that will rent to those on income assistance is difficult according to Christiansen, who said that he receives $375 a month for rent on income assistance.
“I don’t know where to go,” he said. “I would love to rent an apartment but we get $375 a month on income assistance … where do you rent somewhere for $375 a month?” he said.
Christiansen said that at the end of the day, he just wants to be treated equally.
“I am a taxpayer too. Even on income assistance, you pay taxes. At the end of the year I can still do a tax return and get money back,” he said. “I am still a member of the community even though I live in a tent.”