NANAIMO — Eviction notices were served as those occupying a homeless encampment on the front lawn of Nanaimo City Hall became divided over their next move.
Late Tuesday afternoon, City of Nanaimo bylaw officers went tent-to-tent handing out eviction notices, informing campers they needed to pack up and leave by 2 p.m. Wednesday. At the time, roughly 10 tents were scattered across the lawn, less than half the number that were there at the peak of the nine-day-old camp.
Director of public safety Karen Fry told NanaimoNewsNOW City staff met with organizers from the encampment on Tuesday morning and were told some campers would move on, while others would not.
"Instead of having them elect on their own to go, they are now being served eviction notices...We will provide them an opportunity to have their tents removed by 2 p.m. Wednesday."
Organizers originally told the City the tents would come down once Council gave final approval to a $350,000 package of initiatives designed to address Nanaimo's homelessness issue. Council honoured their word, rubber-stamping the spending on Monday night.
However, during a delegation at the meeting, co-organizer Matt O'Donnell struck a slightly different tone. He told councillors it would be up to the homeless people in the camp to decide whether to leave or not, pondering where they would all go.
Co-organizer Amanda Orum emerged from a meeting with City staff early Tuesday afternoon saying they had been offered several other more suitable locations to move the camp to. She said they included several parks where overnight camping is allowed, a parking lot across from the Oxy Pub and City-owned land at 1 Port Dr.
But when she shared that news with the residents of the tent city, the tone shifted dramatically.
Several people became agitated and started arguing with Orum. Eventually she left and the tension at the camp grew as more bylaw and RCMP officers appeared.
One camper said things became "stupid" and they had lost sight of the original goal. He quickly gathered his belongings and left.
Another meeting of campers was called and again arguing broke out over accusations of thefts from tents and feelings the City was trying to "divide and conquer." Another camper said the tone of the camp changed in recent days, with several fights over the weekend and more open drug use. A woman claimed her tent was slashed with a knife in the night.
At one point a young man shouted at a visibly intoxicated man pushing a cart, telling him no one was to be drunk at the camp and they did not allow the buying or selling of drugs.
Fry said the City will approach the situation on a day-to-day basis moving ahead, noting people are not permitted to camp on the grounds of City Hall. She said staff and RCMP will respectfully deal with those who refuse to leave and a court-ordered injunction is a possibility if absolutely necessary.
The City proposed several locations where the camp could move to and Fry said they encouraged people to return to where they were camping before. She said it would not be ideal to create a large, centralized camp at this time, citing potential safety concerns for residents and angst in the community.
She said they've witnessed a "broad spectrum" of people.
"Some of them have been very diligent in cleaning up after themselves and being respectful and cooperating. They understand their mission is to have a voice and I think that was heard, so we do appreciate those individuals. But there are others. We were seeing increased evidence of fights and open drug use and fires occurring at the site."
In a late Tuesday Facebook post, O'Donnell said the camp would move to Barsby Park in time to meet the City's Wednesday afternoon deadline.
On Twitter: @domabassi
— Note to readers: This is an updated story. Additional comment from Karen Fry added.
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