Nanaimo moves to break up tent clusters

Nanaimo officials moved this week to separate a group of tents and to clear combustible materials on Wesley Street on the orders of the city’s fire chief.

It’s the latest move for a city struggling to deal with its population of people without homes. Mayor Leonard Krog is urging the province to help alleviate the “incredible burden” placed on municipalities.

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About 35 tents — some connected with tarps — are regularly found on the street, Dale Lindsay, general manager of development services, said Wednesday. “We have seen an increasing number of materials, basically the amount of area that’s been covered.”

A fire order issued two weeks ago noted tents should be separated and raised concerns about compressed gases, such as propane, and flammable materials being stored in and around tents, Lindsay said.

Officials fear tarps could catch fire and the flames would spread to attached and nearby tents.

Lindsay said there were concerns about the safety of the tent occupants and about keeping Wesley Street clear from tents in case an emergency vehicle had to reach the end of the road, where a supportive-housing complex and overdose-prevention services are located.

About six tents were on private property. They moved off the property on Tuesday and a fence was installed to prevent future trespassing, he said.

Police and municipal staff regularly visit Wesley Street, which has long drawn members of the street population.

At the start of this year, municipal staff and police visited the area regularly, trying to reduce the number of tents on the street.

Nanaimo, like Victoria and Vancouver, is dealing with a large number of people without homes who need significant supports. In July, Nanaimo and B.C. Housing announced a plan for four new supportive-housing developments and development permit applications have started coming into city hall, Lindsay said.

As well, B.C. Housing is working with the city to open the second navigation centre in the province to provide accommodation and supports for people experiencing long-term homelessness.

Nanaimo recently passed a motion to assist with security costs in the Wesley Street area.

“There’s no question that there’s a criminal element there and people who are severely addicted and with severe mental health issues, some of whom have already been in supportive and other types of housing,” said Krog, adding the provincial government, RCMP and other authorities will have to address the problem.

“I hope if the premier sustains a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, it will have some real money and some real teeth and will work in conjunction with the attorney general and the solicitor general, both around the criminal justice system to deal with the criminal element and the solicitor general with policing and enforcement.”

The situation is tiring out front-line workers, Krog said.

“This is not a healthy or happy situation and it is not improving.”

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