Brenda Hanna, a resident of Cedar, talks with a member of a homeless encampment near Nanaimo River on Saturday morning. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

Cedar residents protest homeless encampment near Nanaimo River

Residents raise concerns about environmental impact and crime, but offer also assistance

A day after a B.C. Supreme Court ruling on the fate of a tent city in Nanaimo, Cedar citizens gathered to protest a homeless encampment in their area.

Trailers and tents have been set up near the intersection of Cedar and Harmac roads and residents are concerned about the environmental effect with the proximity to Nanaimo River and fed up with what they say is increased crime in the area. Brenda Hanna, a resident, said the situation has been ongoing for months with needles found and occupants being “really aggressive,” with verbal and physical attacks. She said residents want the river back and the area cleaned.

Hanna said she has had gas siphoned from her vehicle, while Ian McConnell, who lives up the hill from the site, said he has had property, such as kayaks and fishing rods, stolen. McConnell said it has been taking place all summer, although he said there are fewer tents and more trailers now.

“The aim today is to see what the condition is down in the river. What we can do, what we’re going to have to do to clean this up because this is a long-term problem that’s been going on,” said Hanna. “They’ve been dropping their sewage into the river, they’ve been dropping their garbage everywhere and it’s horrible what they’re doing to our community and doing to Mother Nature, so we would like to assess and see what’s going on.”

Hanna and protesters also offered assistance to those who wanted it. Inquiries were made about room at a Cowichan shelter for a woman camp occupant who was also offered a ride to pick up drug treatment medication in Nanaimo. She didn’t wish to speak to the News Bulletin.

Kassidy Morrissey, another camp occupant, provided information to Hanna and other protesters, and said he is willing to take help. He said he was startled when he saw the large crowd descend on the encampment. He said he is on disability assistance and has no place to go because of personal family problems.

“I’ve been staying down here for a month, maybe a little bit more and trying to find a house,” said Morrissey. “There’s no houses and I’m trying to find a place with my mom … we’re in the process of trying to get from one place to another. We’re from Tahsis originally and mainly living here. It’s a whole complicated mess.”

While Hanna said she and some of the protesters can offer help, there needs to be help from the authorities. She said the Regional District of Nanaimo, RCMP and the B.C. Ministry of Transportation have been contacted.

“There’s no resources,” said Hanna. “If I take them and put them in my home and then what? Do I have another child? Where do we go from here? The government’s not stepping up. Police are not stepping up. Everyone’s saying their hands are tied. This is not about a homeless issue. This is about people coming down and stealing in our community and destroying an area they’re in. That’s what this is about.”

Alec McPherson, RDN director for Cedar, said the regional district is handcuffed as it is out of its jurisdiction.

“Those campers have been down there now for some two and a half months and it’s been getting more and more and more … here we are, because we’re the RDN and we’ve got bylaw enforcement, but that’s Ministry of Transportation provincial land. We can’t act on it,” said McPherson.

Members of the Soldiers of Odin were at the protest, but removed clothing bearing their logo after Hanna inquired about their reasons for attending and requested they do so.

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