Even before the gates opened Monday at a busy drug consumption site on Nanaimo’s Nicol Street, users were pacing outside with drugs in hand.
“It means the world to me, it makes people live. There’s a lot of people OD’ing downtown right now, like every day. Every night you’re hearing sirens and this place does keep people alive,” said NANDU client Richard Przada.
But the site’s days of keeping the lights on may be numbered, as a rising outcry from neighbours over a surge in crime, violence and open drug use has demanded officials crack down on the lot serving upwards of 200 addicts daily.
“Step in and help because left to their own devices, people are scared out of their minds,” said Nanaimo resident Collen Middleton, who lives near the site.
The Nanaimo Area Network of Drug Users supervised use site opened in April 2022 due to skyrocketing fatal overdoses from the toxic drug supply, funded by the BC Ministry of Mental Health & Addictions and supported by Island Health.
But neighbour Collen Middleton said NANDU has turned the neighbourhood upside down in the process.
“Aggressive behaviours, people passed out in the alleyways, people overdosing in the yards off their homes. The people who live right beside the site, they have kids, so they don’t even like to use their backyards anymore,” said Middleton.
RCMP responded to 14 calls at the site since April of last year.
“The province really needs to pay attention to the impact that these properties and these kinds of sites have on communities,” said Middleton.
On Monday night, Nanaimo city council is scheduled to vote on whether to declare NANDU a nuisance property. It’s a designation that would charge all emergency calls regarding the property to the landlord who rents the site to NANDU.
“It’s not going to be that great if NANDU closes,” said Sara Edmonson, who volunteers and uses at NANDU.
“It’s going to be worse around here. Worse for the deaths, worse for people outside, worse probably for the neighbours having people using drugs in their yard,” said Edmonson.
Another supervised overdose prevention site run by the Canadian Mental Health Association just opened next to Nanaimo city hall, addressing a gap that NANDU filled in a crisis that neighbours say has taken their neighbourhood with it.