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

From left are Campbell River Food Bank volunteers Darlane Davis, Pat Carville and Donnie Earles. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror.
Keeping food out of the landfill just might save the planet

Food waste is a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and it doesn’t have to be

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

(File photo)
Campbell River’s sewer system is at capacity for southernmost residents

City says no more homes can be hooked into the sewer system at the south end at this point

Police executed a search warrant at the Devils Army Clubhouse on Petersen road in Campbell River on August 10, 2017.
Murder trial into 2016 Campbell River killing underway in Victoria

Ricky Alexander is charged with the first-degree murder of John Dillon Brown

A wildfire has started near Gold River, and B.C. Wildfire Service crews are on scene. Photo courtesy Coastal Fire Centre
Wildfire burning in remote area near Gold River

Coastal Fire Centre investigating cause, but confirms it is human-caused

A lone traveler enters the Calgary Airport in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
VIDEO: Trudeau defends Canada’s travel restrictions as effective but open to doing more

Trudeau said quarantine hotels for international air travellers will continue until at least May 21

Some Saanich firefighters have expressed concerns about first responders in the Island Health Region not being prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as an outbreak at a fire station would make service delivery a challenge. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Some Island firefighters not prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine despite working on frontlines

Saanich members express frustration, department calls on Island Health to take action

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson leaves the assembly with Premier John Horgan after the budget speech Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Paid sick leave for ‘hard-hit’ workers left out of provincial budget: BCGEU

‘For recovery to be equitable it requires supports for workers, not just business,’ says union president Laird Cronk

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, is taken into custody as his attorney, Eric Nelson, left, looks on, after the verdicts were read at Chauvin’s trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Court TV via AP, Pool
George Floyd’s death was ‘wake-up call’ about systemic racism: Trudeau

Derek Chauvin was found guilty Tuesday on all three charges against him

A total of 10 flight exposures have affected the Victoria International Airport in April so far, making it the highest monthly total since the start of the pandemic. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hits record-breaking number of monthly COVID-19 flight exposures

As of April 21, 10 flight exposures reported for the month

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Suspension of Barney Williams would be reversed if he complies with certain terms

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Most Read