Nanaimo tent city, once B.C.'s largest, bulldozed as modular homes open
Heavy machinery moved in and dismantled B.C.'s largest tent city in Nanaimo Monday as dozens of homeless people moved into brand new modular homes.
The former DisconTent City, which first sprang up along downtown Nanaimo's waterfront in May, was flattened by bulldozers after the city was granted an injunction to dismantle it in September.
But just kilometres away is a new beginning for the scores of homeless people who once called the site home.
"So people who were formerly homeless now have somewhere to live," said Dominic Flanagan, executive director of BC Housing.
Two temporary locations are now housing 155 tent city residents – modular home sites on Newcastle Place and Labieux Road.
Supporters say they sites represent one of the fastest and largest responses to a tent city in provincial history.
"Friday there was a young man who, as soon as he came in, called his mom and started crying, and was saying 'Mom, I got in, I'm accepted, I finally have a home,'" said Angela McNulty-Buell of Pacifica Housing, which is operating the Labieux Road site.
The modular housing includes around-the-clock staff to ensure residents are supported and neighbours are addressed, as well as an operations manager, cooks, property maintenance and support workers. Security will also be staffed 24/7.
But the seven-month legacy of the province's largest tent city will likely take more than a bulldozer to erase.
Almost as soon as it sprang up, businesses near the encampment reported an increase in crime, something the judge presiding over injunction hearings agreed with.
"For us, it's been a long time since May since they moved in there. Lots of problems, lots of issues," said Ed Singer, owner of the Sundown Dive Shop.
Singer and other business owners say they saw an increase in not just crime, but open drug use – and earlier this year, an explosion in one of the tents that left a man with second and third-degree burns.
"I mean I'm sure there's some contamination down there as well, a lot of needles on the ground," said Singer.
Remediating the site and testing its soil will be the city's next step. The city has yet to say how high clean-up costs could be.
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said he's just glad there's a hopeful end to the tent city saga.
"The site is going to get restored and in the meantime, the important news is that people are actually housed now at the two sites at both Labieux and Terminal," he said.
While dozens have been housed, some remain on the outside. One homeless man told CTV News he was protesting as crews cleared out the tent city so that "everyone would get housing, not just a select few."
Outreach workers say they'll search for those left behind as permanent housing solutions are sought in the Harbour City.