Lisa Brisco wheels a suitcase out of her smoke-damaged apartment Sunday to face the days ahead out of her home.
She was one of 20 people forced out by a suspicious fire that was started in a dumpster behind a Prideaux Street apartment building early Saturday and quickly spread, engulfing nearby suites where people and pets slept inside.
“It is very frustrating,” said Brisco.
“The whole place was filled with black smoke,” displaced resident Tammy Bell told CHEK News.
Residents said it was just the latest in a string of incidents involving drug users and homeless people setting fires and openly using behind the downtown building, and they fear it could happen elsewhere.
“I don’t have to walk in homeless shoes, so I can’t judge them, but honestly, this kind of damage,” said Brisco.
“I’m constantly afraid of this happening. This is our worst fear becoming realized,” said Collen Middleton, president of the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association (NAPSA).
Middleton helped form the NAPSA in response to an increase in open drug use and growing homelessness in Nanaimo’s south end.
“We’re just exhausted and we’re frightened, really, and the neighbourhoods are all just beyond exasperated about the inaction of our governments. We just don’t understand why more isn’t being done for the residents,” said Middleton.
So the group is urging delegates at the UBCM Convention in Vancouver this week to protect neighbourhoods like this one that are home to safer supply dispensaries. NAPSA is also calling for more monitoring of people who are receiving the drugs.
“These people need help. They do,” said Brisco.
“This situation that happened yesterday could easily happen in just about every major town or city in this province right now,” said Middleton.
Many of the people forced from the Prideaux Street apartment building hope to return within days, but a number of residents’ suites are so damaged that officials have warned it could be a year before they’re allowed back home.