The City of Nanaimo could invoke its nuisance property bylaw against the Nanaimo Area Network of Drug Users following impassioned pleas from neighbours for the city and province to intervene against disturbances, violence, drug use and vandalism associated with the property.
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog, after hearing delegations levelling grievances against NANDU at council meetings Nov. 21 and Dec. 5, said staff will compile a report to consider designating its site at 264 Nicol St. a nuisance property.
NANDU, a peer-run overdose prevention site, receives funding from the B.C. Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions via the Community Action Initiative. It has operated at operated at 264 Nicol St. since April.
NANDU’s project coordinator Ann Livingston told city council Nov. 21 that NANDU has a membership of about 400 current and former drug users and about 200 people per day use its site.
Complaints from neighbours about street disorder, violence and drug use have prompted the creation of the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association, which is advocating to municipal and provincial governments for improved public safety and shares resources with its members in Nanaimo and with similar groups across B.C.
Collen Middleton, who introduced the association to council, said he has seen one person die of an overdose on his property and has also been the victim of a break-in and theft since he moved to the south end last year. Middleton said lack of public health oversight has contributed to problems associated with NANDU.
“Regardless of whether hard drugs are decriminalized, we offer our testimonial experience as neighbours to open-air illicit drug use. The social order consequences of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl use impact us as hosting communities and we won’t sit idly by as our families and home safety and security are under assault,” Middleton said.
NAPSA’s 185 members, he said, want NANDU to move its service and want Nanaimo’s community safety officers to expand their operations to include the 400 block of Victoria Road, Nicol Street and its laneways. Members also want public safety and security to be the top priority in the ReImagine Nanaimo city plan. They also ask that mayor and council forward their concerns to provincial ministers, and call for transparency about public money used for safe supply and harm reduction.
“At this time we are simply gathering our strength for a provincial fight,” Middleton said.
He admitted it’s sometimes difficult to find a “diplomatic voice” given the level of frustration encountered with trying to get action.
“The issue requires advocacy … simply because the advocates on the side of supporting the people who use drugs have been very successful at influencing public opinion and public discourse,” he said. “However, if you try to have that conversation about the surrounding impacts to people who are simply trying to live their lives and protect their assets and their homes and their safety and security, you get nothing but derision and patronizing and they basically suggest that you’re uncompassionate and insensitive, which is not even close to being the case.”
Livingston acknowledged that there are a lot of people coming and going to and from the NANDU location, which she said is one of the busiest overdose prevention sites anywhere. She said she’s willing to meet and communicate with those who have concerns.
“It’s a great thing for neighbourhoods to look after their people and also resolve differences…” she said. “We’re completely trying to do what’s best for the people, which includes the people that come to our place.”
Krog asked if there are ways to sanction NANDU members or visitors who engage in behaviour that is either illegal or unacceptable to the neighbourhood.
“It would appear right now the method is to contact the owner of the land and ask them not to renew our lease because that is our Achilles heel, right? If we don’t have space we don’t have anything,” Livingston said. “We’d love to solve problems and move forward because it is a downward spiral otherwise.”
After hearing delegations at the Dec. 5 meeting, Krog said city staff would be instructed to bring forward a report for the purpose of potentially designating the NANDU site as a nuisance property. The mayor said council fully supports the ministerial order and mandate of the health board to provide as many overdose prevention services as required in locations they deem necessary to respond to the health emergency.
“As NANDU is funded by the province and is supported by Island Health, the city calls upon the health authority and the province to take necessary steps to support the site and to mitigate the impact on the community and council has also directed staff to pursue compliance with municipal bylaws…” Krog said. “And I should also say that staff are directed to pursue compliance with these bylaws.”
Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson, speaking last week when she was still B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions, said her personal hope was that drug users who were going to the NANDU site would instead start accessing the new overdose prevention site on Albert Street.