Fire and overdose death reported at Nanaimo’s tent city


WATCH: Officials say there is trouble at Nanaimo’s tent city that seems to be getting worse. First responders say they’re called to the site daily. There was a fire at the site Thursday and on Wednesday a woman died. Kendall Hanson reports.

There are now more than 100 tents set up in a once vacant lot in Nanaimo and officials say there is a growing number of problems.

On Wednesday, Bellrena McKay died following an overdose at one of the tents. Those at the tent city, called Discontent City, and BC Ambulance paramedics tried to revive her. She died later in hospital.

“She was a really good mom, really good person and she didn’t deserve to go this way,” said her friend Anita George. “I’m going to miss her.”

George said she affectionately called McKay her stepmom. They met more than a decade-and-a-half ago in Port Alberni.

While she wasn’t with her when it happened, George believes it was McKay’s first time doing hard drugs.

“She smoked weed but she was more of an alcoholic person. It was her first time doing that stuff,” said George.

George said McKay always said she loved her children so much. She was staying at a women’s shelter but ended up at tent city Wednesday night.

“This is really going to hurt,” said George.

Those at tent city say it’s actually safer at the site than living on the streets. One resident says he’s saved dozens of people from dying from overdoses.

Last night there was a fire in a tent, a woman was shot in the face with a BB gun and there were two overdoses. The fire was reported shortly after 11:45 p.m. and when fire crews arrived, a small, smouldering fire was found inside a tent where one person was sleeping. The City of Nanaimo said no one was injured and the cause of the fire is undetermined. However, witnesses told fire crews it could have been a candle or a lit cigarette.

The city says the situation at tent city isn’t safe.

“As of last Monday we had over 200 RCMP calls for services to the site,” said Nanaimo’s acting mayor, Ian Thorpe. “Fire rescue has been heavily involved of course and I know there have been some tragic circumstances at tent city but it kind of underscores our belief that it’s not a safe situation.”

The city is pursuing an injunction in BC Supreme Court but it won’t be heard for another two weeks.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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