Clay Tree Society in Nanaimo narrowly escapes damage from a fire


Clay Tree Society, a non-profit in Nanaimo’s south end, is feeling the impacts of the unhoused.

This past weekend, a fire scorched a tree on its 5.5-acre property on Old Victoria Road. Firefighters stopped it just short of damaging a nearby building.

The society says it’s a concerning incident and adds it has seen an increase in recent months in garbage from encampments and people squatting on the property.

“It certainly has gotten worse,” said Jennifer Fowler, the society’s executive director.

“You can see from the debris on the property that there is garbage, there is biohazard, there is leftover paraphernalia from drug use and so this has been a concern, especially for the people that we work with who are vulnerable, people with developmental disabilities.”

The fire started this past Saturday before 3 a.m. in a tree close to the society’s building.

Fortunately, a taxi company is located across the road and a staff member called 911.

Firefighters arrived and put the fire out in the nick of time.

“It is unreal how our program buildings weren’t set on fire. I don’t know how that didn’t happen. Somebody is looking after Clay Tree because it’s very close. Sparks were even flying onto the roof,” said Fowler.

Police attended but weren’t able to locate those responsible for the blaze.

The society is now considering increasing security measures as a result.

Its current buildings are fenced but a large section of property it intends to expand onto in future years is not.

“It’s a high cost, especially for us a non-profit, the cost to clean it up to keep it safe especially if it’s biohazard. We have to outsource that cost. We’ve been trying to keep it open without fencing it off but now we’ll probably have to look at the cost of fencing and perhaps extra security,” said Fowler.

An organization that supports the unhoused says it is very expensive for the government and society to not have people sheltered.

“There are certainly better cost-effective ways to being able to support these community members as opposed to enforcement measures that don’t really seem to be aiding in the challenges people might be having,” said Jovanne Johnson, Risebridge’s executive director.

The Clay Tree Society says it would love to see more resources allocated to people who want to be housed and freed of addiction.

RELATED: In December, Nanaimo City Council gave preliminary approval to hire 40 new firefighters related to an increase in call volume

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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