Is anti-homeless hate right wing extremism or government policy?

Since Discontent City opened on May 17th, there have been hundreds of vigilante threats made against the camp and its residents. On the first night of the City’s injunction hearing against the camp, a group of bigots pelted a woman in camp with stones and bottles from on top of the parkade across the street, hitting her in the head with a bottle. A man leaned out the passenger side of a car driving by and shot a man inside his tent with a paintball gun. A public supporter of the camp has had a bottle thrown at her, and a man has spat in her face. The RCMP has not made a single arrest in any of these cases, have not made a single public statement decrying these hate crimes, and have not – as far as we know – made a single visit to a bigot posting death threats on Facebook. Darcy, a resident of tent city states, “Police aren’t doing their job. They’re only here to make the public feel safe. When we ask for help because we feel unsafe from the vigilante violence, there’s no police.”

Vigilante violence, alongside the disinterest of the RCMP in protecting vulnerable people from those acts, complement and buttress the City’s own strategy of displacing and repressing homeless people. In this context, the emergence of a far right hate group onto the stage should come as no surprise—the anti-homeless march organized by the Soldiers of Odin and Action Against Discontent City is a culmination of, rather than an exception to, the City’s policies. Since Discontent City formed, the City of Nanaimo has aggressively tried to break up a community of self-organized homeless people fighting for safety, visibility, and an end to the negligent government policies that have pushed them into the streets in the first place.

Rather than build affordable housing (a refusal that went so far as to turn down Provincial money for social housing), the City of Nanaimo has relied on police, fire department, and bylaw harassment, as well as applications for court-ordered displacement, in attempts to bully Discontent City out of existence. Rather than protect homeless people, who are the ones most vulnerable to violence and death, campers have seen RCMP officers on the roof of the nearby mall while anti-homeless vigilantes launch bottles into the camp. Rather than work with resources that BC Housing has offered to make the camp more fire safe, Nanaimo’s renegade fire chief Karen Fry has applied for a draconian court order that would empower police to arrest homeless people whose campsites do not comply with her over-the-top fire order.

Nanaimo’s city council, RCMP, and Fire Department all give the same message: that homeless people are not part of the public, that they are unwanted, and that they should be driven out of the city. These hostile government gestures legitimize and encourage anti-homeless hatred amongst the public and embolden hate groups who share the City of Nanaimo’s racist disdain for Indigenous people, who make up the majority of Discontent City, as well as broader anti-poor hatred. So what is the difference between how the City of Nanaimo treats homeless people and how the Soldiers of Odin, or Action Against Discontent City, want them to be treated?

Discontent City refuses to stand by while white supremacist groups jump onto the violent, poor bashing, anti-Native bandwagon championed by the City of Nanaimo and applauded by large sections of the public. We are calling on all members of the community to rise up against the mobilization of racist, neo-nazi sentiment in Nanaimo. We will put ourselves between hate groups and police and the residents of Discontent City by blockading the camp from any vigilante violence and their efforts to dismantle the camp by force.

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