Nanaimo crews hoisted bags of garbage with tow trucks Tuesday as they started clearing out a notorious homeless camp that has occupied a Millstone River embankment for six months.
It’s a camp that neighbouring residents said left them afraid to leave their homes.
“We have to be very careful. When we come out, we try to come out by twos,” said neighbour Lorraine Bell.
“It got especially dangerous down there. We used to like to walk down there, but we stopped walking down there because it was too much of a risk,” said neighbour John Adams.
The camp below Terminal Avenue was the site of two shootings, including a high-profile incident where Nanaimo business owner Clint Smith was shot in the stomach after he went searching for goods stolen from his auto shop there.
According to Nanaimo Bylaws, as many as 40 people were living at the site at one time, and after continued pressure from the community and officers, they all decided to leave. But they left behind a big mess.
“Propane has been the big thing, there’s lots of biohazards as well, so crews have to be careful with that type of stuff,” said Barry Hornby, senior community safety officer for the City of Nanaimo.
Neighbour John Adams said Tuesday that it was a huge relief to hear the clean-up underway.
“That’s good news. I’m glad that somebody’s actually doing something about it,” said Adams.
Because adding to the danger, clean-up crews have found signs of multiple fire starts at the encampment during a time of drought and extreme fire conditions.
“We’ll keep track of people to make sure it doesn’t get reoccupied, but that’s always a challenge,” said Hornby.
Neighbours said they will be watching closely.
“My feeling is they’re just going to build another one because that’s what happens,” said Bell.
“As soon as they clean up a camp, there’s somebody coming to move back into it,” said neighbour Patty Adams.
Officials expect it to take as long as three days to clean up all the garbage left behind in what’s an ecologically sensitive area of Nanaimo. So far, it’s unclear where the 40 former residents of the camp have gone.