The City of Nanaimo responded to increased clean-up duties by budgeting for a social disorder response team in 2020.
The crew started as a pilot project in November 2019 and at a meeting in late May, city council approved $187,000 to fund 80 hours of cleanup each week.
Charlotte Davis, the city’s manager of custodial services, said the social disorder response team relieves strain from bylaw services.
“With this particular type of social disorder they were tasked with removing detritus from our streets and parks,” she said. “That was something that was taking away from their other duties.”
A staff report notes that bylaw services spend the “majority of their time” on the issue. According to the report, bylaw officers collected 404 shopping carts off the streets in 2019, and another 225 were collected in the first four months of 2020.
“The issue of hoarding materials is seen across the whole city,” Davis said. “It’s in parks where we have encampments and abandoned materials, it’s in streets where we have the shopping carts that are abandoned as well.”
The team cleans up waste, removes graffiti, picks up litter, and collects and disposes of needles, the report says. Davis said the items being “cleaned up” aren’t people’s possessions, but rather things left behind after bylaw officers ask people experiencing homelessness to move a camp. Twelve “hot spot areas” receive proactive cleanup: Bowen Park’s upper and lower picnic shelters, Harbourfront Walkway, Anchor Way, Diana Krall Plaza, the Vancouver Island Military Museum, the Italian fountain, Esplanade gardens, Nob Hill Park, Nanaimo City Hall bluffs, Pioneer Square Park, the Bastion Bridge and Comox Park.
Davis said the city’s sanitation department is best equipped to handle the work, but the staff report noted that the resources required – two staff members and a vehicle – were coming from the sanitation budget which was “unsustainable.”
Bill Sims, general manager of public works and engineering, said in 2020 the city may not require the entire $187,000 sum, which will be coming from the city’s special initiatives reserve. The staff report noted that a more comprehensive plan will be included in 2021 budgeting.
Coun. Don Bonner said it’s a good thing that the work is taking place but unfortunate that the city is spending money reactively instead of on proactively addressing social problems.
Coun. Zeni Maartman thanked staff for their work.
“I think it’s really unfortunate that in our society, we have these issues, and we will continue to work hard as a council,” she said. “Unfortunately our city doesn’t seem to have gotten cleaner. I’m seeing more graffiti, I’m seeing more issues.”