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Nanaimo drug-consumption site could be declared a nuisance; neighbours worried for their safety

Neighbours of the site, which attracts about 200 drug users a day, complain of aggressive and threatening behaviour, fighting and open-air drug use that’s left children afraid to play outside
NANDU's drug consumption site in Nanaimo. Photo provided by Nanaimo Area Network of Drug Users

Nanaimo is considering designating a property leased for a busy drug-consumption site a nuisance, which would allow the city to impose fines when officials are called in to deal with problems.

About 200 people show up daily to inhale or inject drugs while being monitored by peers at 264 Nicol St. in south Nanaimo.

Many neighbours say they are frustrated and frightened by the group’s presence and behaviour.

Area residents have called emergency services after finding people unconscious near the property, sometimes in vehicles.

They have complained about alleys crowded with people and vehicles, threatening and aggressive behaviour, open-air illicit drug use, fighting, fireworks, drug paraphernalia, stolen property, a constant state of unease and stress, graffiti and vandalism, and children afraid to play outside.

This week, city council asked staff to ensure bylaws are enforced and to prepare a report considering declaring the site a nuisance.

Nanaimo RCMP are working with residents to form a block watch program, Const. Gary O’Brien said, where they can learn how to help protect their properties.

The RCMP’s bike patrol and general duty officers are also stepping up their presence with regular patrols of the lot and area, he said.

The lot’s owner is listed in government records as a B.C. company based in Richmond.

Under the city’s nuisance abatement and cost-recovery bylaw, the costs are determined in part by a flat fee for each time officials go to the site and time spent to deal with a particular nuisance. The current rate is $250 for each visit by a municipal service, such as bylaw officers, police, fire, building inspection and public works, said David LaBerge, city manager of community safety and bylaw services.

The charges are levied against the property, not whoever is leasing a site.

Ann Livingston, a volunteer with the Nanaimo Area Network of Drug Users (NANDU), which runs the program, said city officials will not meet with the group or grant an operating permit for the site.

Livingston called the city’s statement that the site could be deemed a nuisance a “hostile escalation.”

She said the site operates “hand to mouth” with little funding. It opened at its current site in March with $80,000 from a provincial program, and has been swamped by high demand, she told council last month. “In no way did we ever think 200 people a day would come to the site.”

In a statement, the city called on the province and Island Health to “support the site and mitigate the impact on the community.”

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said the city understands the need for safe injection and inhalation sites. “But the crime, the street disorder, the behaviours that accompany the NANDU site are just not acceptable,” Krog said. “You cannot in a 21st century democracy allow this kind of what I will call lawlessness and disregard for convention and community.”

One mother with two children and a tenant with a child fears that her family was targeted by a man who was asking her elderly father-in-law about the gender of the children on Nov. 9, she told council.

The man became suddenly violent and “began slamming our wooden front gate so hard that all the metal hardware was ripped from the wood,” she said. The woman’s husband called 911 and the man headed towards NANDU. He was arrested.

Collen Middleton, speaking for the 185-member Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association, told council this week: “We won’t sit idly by as our families’ and our homes’ safety and security are under assault.”

He recommended relocating NANDU away from family homes and businesses.

So far this year, there have been 59 deaths in Nanaimo related to illicit drugs, up from 51 for the same period last year.

On Monday, a new overdose-prevention site opened at 250 Albert St. where users can either inhale — a growing trend — or inject drugs.

It’s unclear how many of the NANDU users will go to the new facility, which is run by the mid-Island branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association and supported by Island Health and the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.

It opened on an interim basis this week and services will be expanded in the coming year, the province said.

In 2016, the province declared drug-related overdoses and deaths a public health emergency.

September saw 171 people die of toxic drugs in B.C. The death total for the first nine months of the year is 1,644, the highest number for those months.

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