A crackdown is taking place in downtown Nanaimo, as the city steps up bylaws enforcement against people sleeping on the street.
Part of Wesley Street in downtown Nanaimo has become ground zero for the city’s homeless, where dozens of people have been pitching tents and camping out.
But now, the city is having zero tolerance in upholding its bylaws.
“We’re having fires at night in burning bins etcetera so we’re just trying to reign in some of the disorder that’s happening,” said David Laberge, Nanaimo’s Manager of Community Safety.
“We’re taking a much firmer approach in enforcing the bylaws as it relates to the accumulation of chattels or camping on the road right-of-ways.”
Island Health’s overdose prevention site is in a building on Wesley Street and the location is central to other services for the homeless but the city says local businesses have been requesting the crackdown.
“Every morning we’re sweeping the area not just in the 400 block of Wesley but the adjacent area,” said Laberge.
“[We’re] making sure that people aren’t set up in doorways of businesses and that when staff come in they have access to their property.”
The co-owner of a nearby restaurant says she supports the crackdown, even though it doesn’t solve the homeless crisis.
“The bylaw doesn’t keep people away. It just takes away their stuff. They still come back,” said Chrissy Forsythe of Delicado’s Deli.
“There’s nowhere for them to go.”
Forsythe says there should be a place where the homeless can keep warm during the day and she says there should be addiction services available as soon as people are ready to ditch substances.
Those on the street say they’re feeling like they have nowhere to go.
“We’re continually chased, harassed, intimidated, made to move along by security guards and by people who have jobs in businesses who are scared of losing their jobs in those businesses,” said Gary Barnier, who’s been homeless for most of the past four years.
“To keep us out and harass us more. This just recently happened. They’re upping the pressure on us. No doubt. No question,” said Mike Thomson who’s moved to Nanaimo in recent months.
“I usually have a cart full of stuff stolen usually once every couple of days having me start over from nothing. They’ll do it so I have no resources and freezing,” said Adam Morley.
But city officials say they’re not harassing the homeless, adding that people can camp in some parks overnight.
In December Nanaimo’s mayor said he believes Nanaimo’s most mentally ill who are living on the street should be committed.