An increasing number of homeless individuals have been camping on Wesley Street in downtown Nanaimo, but that changed on Tuesday.
City bylaw officers, fire officials and police moved in and forced some tenters to leave the city. Officials say they were enforcing a fire order issued on Oct. 15 and the city’s trespassing bylaw.
“The fire department came in and removed a handful of campers,” said Renee Mayers who been tenting on the street for the past couple of months.
They also put up a fence alongside a private home where they told tenters to leave.
Fire officials say there’s a real danger with tenters being so close together and the department warns more enforcement action may be needed.
“If one tent catches fire there is a high probability it’s going to travel to the next tent and then onwards and not just from tent to tent but also to any adjacent property,” said Deputy Fire Chief Tim Doyle with Nanaimo Fire Rescue.
Mayers who says she’s become homeless recently for the first time in her life says the two-metre distancing rule between tents doesn’t work.
“And to be two metres away from a wall. That’s impossible. I’m going to be on the road but I’m not allowed on the road so they’re giving us impossible rules to meet and they know it,” said Mayers.
When Nanaimo’s tent city was up in 2018, there was a fire order with a distancing rule of one metre between tents.
The fire department says it’s two metres now because of COVID-19.
Mayers believes there’s a hidden agenda behind the rules.
“To get us out of here. To displace everybody. They want us back in the bushes where nobody sees us which I don’t understand. I would rather know where everyone is.”
“When we try to enforce the spacing there’s less space for them and then the question inevitably leads to what’s the alternative,” said Doyle.
But the fire department says their sole concern is community safety and the alternative for these campers is a question for others in the community.