A number of people who had set up camps near one of Nanaimo’s busiest intersections have been asked to move by the city.
The former A&B Sound building at the corner of Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue in downtown Nanaimo had become the site of several homeless camps by people who had taken up residence in the building’s doorways and alcoves. Furniture, shopping carts and garbage that was collecting around the building generated complaints about unsightliness, but there were also reports of campfires being lighted next to the building, which prompted a response from Nanaimo Fire Rescue on Tuesday morning.
“Based on the complaint, we’ve asked them to move and they complied,” said Alan Millbank, Nanaimo Fire Rescue fire prevention officer.
Millbank said about 10 people had taken up residence around the building and the city and province help with at least temporary housing alternatives.
“A lot of these people choose not to take up these options. They’d rather just live on the street,” Millbank said. “A lot of these people people suffer from some past trauma, some severe trauma of some kind, and they have a real hard time with trust and dealing with people and ended up on drugs because of it. It’s not unlike somebody who’s suffered severe shell shock or PTSD.”
The building, owned by Vancouver-based Steiner Properties, has been vacant and deteriorating for a number of years. Millbank said electrical power and water were cut off to the building after it was broken into recently and electrical wiring and plumbing were stripped out of parts of the structure.
“It’s actually in a state of disrepair, which I’m actually writing an order on,” he said.
He said black mould and asbestos contamination along with the building’s general deterioration are among the safety issues with the structure that are concerning to the city.
“Part of the order is to try and get them to do an engineering study and determine the hazard there, because right now it’s not safe enough for us to even go in a and look at it,” Millbank said.
That fire department’s order to remediate fire and life safety hazards was served to Steiner Properties on Wednesday morning, said Karen Fry, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief and city director of public safety.
Fry said the city is responding to complaints that came from the downtown community and residents about disorder and from people concerned about finding housing for the people living around the building.
“So it’s kind of both. What can we do to make the community feel or have the sense of being safe and not being accosted on the street or having it become an impediment for the traffic that’s going by, as well as making sure the building is safe and secure?” Fry asked. “So with that we … work together with multiple divisions within the city to address the concerns of that building and we will be increasing our actions, our orders with the property owner, to take a bit more responsibility on their property to make sure it’s addressed.”
Steiner Properties has one week from the issuing of the order to apply security measures to prevent fire hazards up or against the premises.