NANAIMO — Students at a south Nanaimo elementary school were displaced from their classroom Wednesday, as the impact of homelessness on the district's facilities continues to escalate.
Parents of children at Bayview Elementary received an email Wednesday morning notifying them a portable was vandalized and a grade 4/5 class would move to the library for the day.
Nanaimo-Ladysmith Public School's Dale Burgos said it appeared someone was using the portable for shelter sometime over the weekend and started a fire near an exterior wall. He said that caused smoke and fire damage requiring clean-up and painting.
"As a precaution because of the smell of cleaners and paint, the safety and wellness group suggested the kids stay inside the school and away from the portable while staff are working on it."
Burgos said students were expected to return to their normal classroom on Thursday.
It's the latest suspected example of Nanaimo's homeless population using school facilities for overnight shelter, an occurrence Burgos said is becoming common at a number of schools, particularly in the downtown area.
"It is happening more and more frequently," Burgos said. "We've got district staff noticing (it) as they're doing their morning walkarounds of the school."
He said it's something the District is trying to address by increasing security patrols during non-school hours. There have been conversations about adding additional fencing in problem areas and extra staff have been hired to deal with needles and other undesirable things left behind on school grounds.
He said ultimately it's part of a larger conversation about an issue which needs to be addressed by multiple organizations, including the City, RCMP and Island Health.
"There's obviously some concern from parents. They don't want their children to be seeing this around the school and rightfully so. As a school district and a community, we don't want to see that."
In January, a mother of children attending Ecole Pauline Haarer spoke to Council, outlining serious concerns with the dire situation at their downtown school. She told Council her own daughter was believed to have been pricked by a needle and staff at the school were overwhelmed cleaning up everything from vomit to feces to drug paraphernalia on a daily basis.
After hearing the concerns and what the woman described as a "lack of efforts put forth by the City to keep our children safe," Council vowed to take up the issue at the Public Safety Committee.
Following a boisterous committee meeting on Feb. 1, a recommendation came back to Council to direct staff to identify problem schools and parks, develop resources to address the issues and begin a needle pick up program at Pauline Haarer.
However, when the motion came for final approval on Monday night, councillors voiced a variety of concerns with the proposed approach.
"School District 68 has to be a partner in this and I would hope we wouldn't be exhausting too much time, energy and resources on...the school grounds and we would rely on school district people to do that on our behalf," coun. Bill Bestwick said.
"I support it but I don't know what I'm supporting to be quite honest," he said.
Eventually, coun. Sheryl Armstrong agreed to withdraw the motion and take it back to the Public Safety Committee for clarification. That committee meets again on March 1.
On Twitter: @domabassi
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