The Wesley Street encampment earlier this fall. (News Bulletin file photo)

The Wesley Street encampment earlier this fall. (News Bulletin file photo)

‘Disorder, conflict, violence, frequent overdoses’: Why Nanaimo tent city was dismantled

City of Nanaimo says had fire happened at night, the result would have been multiple fatalities

Nanaimo’s tent city was unsafe, unlawful and unsustainable, which is why it was dismantled after a fire earlier this month, says the city.

The City of Nanaimo released today a four-page report from its bylaws department on the Wesley Street encampment, the Dec. 3 fire and the city’s response to the fire, following criticism after it displaced the people who had been residing there and bulldozed the site.

“The encampment on Wesley Street by its very nature was no longer sustainable, it was unsafe and unlawful, and it is disingenuous to suggest that there was improper motive for its closure,” the report said.

The report noted that there had been three other fires at the encampment over the four weeks leading up to the Dec. 3 fire, when a candle ignited an unoccupied tent against the side of the Franklyn Street gym.

“Had this fire occurred during night hours when adjacent structures were occupied, there would have been multiple fatalities,” the report speculated.

The report addressed specific complaints about loss of property and lack of access to Wesley Street after the fire, suggesting “misrepresentation” of events.

The report outlined the history of the encampment and noted that although city bylaws do not permit structures on road rights-of-way, “exceptions were made” for a small group of people sheltering on Wesley Street in 2019 due to its location close to social services and with consideration for the hardships of packing up shelters each morning. However, the encampment grew and began to develop some of the same characteristics that had made Discontent City “untenable,” said the report.

“A robust and intensive open-air drug market evolved around Wesley Street encampment, which not only attracted more inhabitants, but also brought many itinerant folks onto the street where drugs were openly sold and consumed without inhibition,” the report noted. “Disorder, conflict, violence and frequent overdoses accompanied this culture.”

story continues below

Bylaws noted that by early 2020, the encampment had sprawled onto the road, “the street was littered and filthy and infested with vermin” and one to four truckloads of garbage were hauled away every morning.

The report said residents from the neighbourhood would wander down Wesley in the mornings “looking for their patio furniture, their tools or their children’s bicycles. As often as not, they would find what they were looking for.” The report also described an incident in which “a local professional from a nearby business” was met with hostility and abuse as he retrieved cement blocks that had been stolen from a wall around his office, and “was visibly shaken and defeated” afterward.

“The plight of homelessness and this terrible fire incident are tragedies, but it is also important to consider that there are many people who live and work in this neighbourhood who have been impacted and deeply traumatized by these events,” the report summarized.

The full report was posted on the city’s website Tuesday after Nanaimo city council voted 5-2 at a meeting Monday to release the report publicly. Councillors Tyler Brown – who said he hadn’t yet seen the report – and Don Bonner voted against releasing the report and councillors Ben Geselbracht and Erin Hemmens did not vote.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo’s health and housing task force presents action plan to address homelessness

READ ALSO: City dismantling Wesley Street homeless encampment after fire

Jake Rudolph, the city’s chief administrative officer, told councillors at the meeting that bylaw crews have been redeployed from Wesley Street to various parks and said it’s resulted in more bylaws coverage around the city than there was previously.

“There have been some short-term locations of smaller groups of people in different locations in and around the downtown and the parks and that’s been something that’s been a concern,” he said.

However, he said so far the displacement of Wesley Street residents who were experiencing homelessness has “not become a localized problem” in another areas.

“There were some attempts to establish larger concentrations of folks and that’s always been our mandate to not allow that to happen,” Rudolph said.

He said the dismantling of the Wesley Street encampment has been met with positive feedback from surrounding businesses.

“It’s been a much different environment around the civic precinct complex here, to be honest,” Rudolph said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of relief for the organization and staff here that’s taken place in the last week and it’s a much safer and congenial environment, for the security guards even that are working in the area.”

He added that there were shelter beds available in Nanaimo every night last week.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo citizens ask about housing and homelessness at budget-focused town hall meeting



photos@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

City HallHomelessness

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A member of the Belmont Secondary School in Langford has tested positive for COVID-19, the Sooke School District announced Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Positive COVID-19 case identified at Belmont Secondary School in Langford

Other school members could’ve been exposed on April 20

The Art of Kindness youth arts exhibition opens May 5 at the Gallery by Sooke Arts Council. The exhibition runs through to May 16. (Contributed - Diane Moran)
Student artists explore the meaning of kindness

Sooke Arts Council hosts The Art of Kindness youth arts exhibition

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map shows new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 11-17. (BCCDC image)
BCCDC says fresh COVID-19 cases down in most Island Health areas

Nanaimo sees its fewest new COVID-19 cases since mid January

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

The Sooke Regional Spotlight, presented by the Federation of B.C. Writers (FBCW), features readings by nine established and emerging Sooke Region authors. (Pixabay.com)
Sooke authors to shine in province-wide event

Nine local writers star in an online ‘spotlight’ presentation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

The conservation service confirmed they do not relocate cougars from settled areas but that euthanasia is not necessarily the fate for an animal in the Fanny Bay area. The hope is that the animal will move on to wild areas. (File photo)
Woman hopes cat-stalking Fanny Bay cougar can avoid euthanization

Conservation officers do not relocate the animals from Vancouver Island

Tofino residents expressed frustration over a recent post by Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett that falsely claimed all residents have been vaccinated. (Westerly file photo)
Resort owner apologizes for suggesting Tofino is safe to travel to

Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett apologizes to community and visitors

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Police executed a search warrant at the Devils Army Clubhouse on Petersen road in Campbell River on August 10, 2017.
Murder trial: Victim left to conclude out-of-court settlement on the day he disappeared

Trial of Richard Alexander in death of John Dillon Brown continues in B.C. Supreme Court in Victoria

Most Read