UPDATED: Homeless campers obey order to vacate Nanaimo city hall lawn

UPDATED: Homeless campers obey order to vacate Nanaimo city hall lawn

Eviction notices were distributed Tuesday

Despite some noises otherwise, the impromptu campsite on the front lawn of Nanaimo city hall is gone.

The tent city of homeless people quietly dispersed by Wednesday afternoon after the City of Nanaimo issued an eviction notice to dozens of individuals who have been camping there for the past few days.

Karen Fry, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief and director of public safety, said an eviction notice was issued Tuesday. She said campers had until 2 p.m. Wednesday to vacate the lawn adding that any who remained would be “relocated” by Nanaimo RCMP and bylaw officers.

Organizers estimated there were 40 individuals camping out on the lawn at city hall earlier this week. The camp-out first began as a protest in response to the loss of $7.25 million of provincial money for a low-barrier housing project in Chase River, which was rejected by councillors over concerns from residents.

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Fry said Nanaimo Fire Rescue had not responded to any overdoses at city hall, but they have responded to other calls including fires near tents.

She said that whiel she was at the site Wednesday morning, she noticed a pedestrian go out of her way to avoid walking near the campsite. She said the campers can be intimidating to some and that there have also been conflicts between campers.

“They’ve had a fire on two occasions that was really close to a tent, which is really dangerous,” she said. “There are fights and arguments breaking out.”

The city could have prohibited the campers from being on the law in the first place, but decided to allow them the right to protest, says Fry, adding that finding a balance between an individual’s right to protest and violating city bylaws and creating an unsafe environment is not easy.

“It’s always a tough position to be in because we want people to be able to have freedom of speech and be able to display and demonstrate peacefully and for people to hear their concerns,” she said. “We could have had security there and not permitted them to camp, but we chose at that time to let them demonstrate until the council meeting was followed through with.”

Where these individuals move to next is up to them, but they cannot camp out in city parks because it violates existing bylaws.

“There is no tenting permitted anywhere, people can have overnight shelter in several locations in the city. I know someone is reporting that I said they could have a tent city at Barsby Park, but that is not the case,” she said. “[Barsby Park] is close to a riparian area. There are currently a few tents there and they will be asked to leave as well because they are near the [Millstone River]. It’s one thing if they are near the parking lot or something, but it’s another thing if they are near an area that could damage the fish habitat.”


nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com

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