Workers erect fences around Italian Square Park Thursday morning, after city bylaws officers and police asked people experiencing homelessness to move out. Jake Rudolph, Nanaimo’s chief administrative officer, said a growing congregation of people camping overnight in the park prompted complaints that spurred the city to take action. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Workers erect fences around Italian Square Park Thursday morning, after city bylaws officers and police asked people experiencing homelessness to move out. Jake Rudolph, Nanaimo’s chief administrative officer, said a growing congregation of people camping overnight in the park prompted complaints that spurred the city to take action. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo fences off downtown park due to people experiencing homelessness

Complaints about gatherings, overnight camping and safety concerns trigger city response

Fences have been erected around Italian Square Park in downtown Nanaimo after complaints from the public.

Access to the park surrounding the Italian fountain, located in front of Port Place Shopping Centre, was cut off with construction fences Thursday, March 18, after the city received complaints about growing numbers of people experiencing homelessness congregating in the park and camping on the open grassy area overnight.

“There’s been a lot of complaints the bylaws department has received about the impacts of the optics of it from the community, and some of the businesses in the area have been expressing they wanted something done about it,” said Jake Rudolph, City of Nanaimo chief administrative officer.

Over the past several weeks, bylaw officers and Nanaimo RCMP have carried out a daily morning routine of making campers pack up their belongings and move off the site. In recent weeks, more people have been congregating on the site. About 20 people were camping out in the park overnight, said Rudolph.

The number of complaints about the camp had scaled up to the point “where they were becoming a concern,” he said.

“The site seemed to become entrenched and that is a trigger that becomes a concern [because] with that comes a different dynamic there and it’s more challenging and it’s more dangerous, actually for the bylaws officers in particular, to interface with folks,” Rudolph said. “So an operational decision was made, and it was a collaborative decision I was involved in, with the police, bylaws and parks to have to secure the site.”

RELATED: City dismantling Wesley Street homeless encampment after fire

Rudolph was in the immediate area when people were asked to move off the site, shortly before 8 a.m., and he said they were orderly and compliant. He said with Casino Nanaimo closed, there was little activity in the casino parking lot next to the park, so the park became a perceived safe zone for the people camping there.

“I think people locate to those locations, to be honest, because those folks that are unfortunate, and in that situation, feel safer in an environment that’s open, so I’m not faulting them at all. You can’t allow it to get out of control and it was changing its characteristics … We’re not trying to be mean or anything,” he said.

Rudolph cited a number of other locations in Nanaimo where people set up camps and said the city regularly disperses and cleans up camps when complaints are made, but said he hopes new housing projects by B.C. Housing, slated to start construction in Nanaimo this year, will help alleviate homelessness that has become an issue for cities across Canada.

RELATED: Nanaimo’s health and housing task force presents action plan to address homelessness
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