Alleged assaults were the final straw prompting neighbours to moved in and oust a squatters’ camp and its residents from a community south of Nanaimo on the weekend.
The action happened Saturday when about 40 South Wellington residents descended on a camp that sprawled on private property and Crown land along Hill Avenue that included a number of people living in a “run down” house and others who had set up camp in trailers and RVs.
According a social media post, which included photos and video footage of the cleanup work, the neighbourhood had been suffering for about two years with break-ins, thefts, assaults, mailboxes broken into and other crime in the area.
On Feb. 4 a group of about 15 people went to the camp and told the residents there they had 24 hours to leave.
“We did ask everyone to leave. We told them we had authorization to be there and, in fact, we did; the owner of the private property, we did have her authorization to clean it up,” said Tara Wood, who lives in the neighbourhood. “We actually told them we were giving them 24 hours, but we all had agreed we were giving them until Saturday.”
Wood said a trailer whose occupant was allegedly selling drugs was gone the following day.
At 10 a.m. Feb. 8, about 40-50 neighbours moved in with tools, dumpster bins and an excavator and started dismantling the camp.
“If you go down there now it’s still a mess,”said Greg Stolz, an area resident who also participated in the cleanup. “We want to go back there on Saturday again with machinery and stuff. We want to put the land back the way it should be.”
The owner of the property was there on Saturday to watch the activity, Stolz said.
He said the work party arrived in a convoy of pickup trucks, which he believed caused some concern for the residents of the camp, but some who were living in RVs had left earlier in the week.
“They knew they didn’t have a choice,” he said.
Some of the residents being displaced Saturday didn’t go peacefully initially.
“There was some yelling going on when we got there,” Wood said. “One of the gentlemen that was removed lit up a crack pipe in front of us and decided to shoot up right in front of everybody … I have to stress this was not a homeless camp. We had drug paraphernalia there. We had weapons there. We had stolen goods there.”
Nanaimo RCMP were on scene during the cleanup.
“Our position is such, that we were there to ensure the situation did not get out of control and that we’re to keep the peace,” said Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman.
O’Brien said one individual was detained by police under the Mental Health Act and taken to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital for assessment.
Wood said over the last 18 months, residents had experienced experienced numerous break-and-enters to homes, some even occurring as homeowners were in their beds sleeping.
“Eight weeks ago a gentleman came on to my property and assaulted my husband and my son with a knife,” Wood said. “He got my husband down, smashed his face in. My husband was then taken to the hospital. My husband is 6-foot-2 and 260. This is the same gentleman they removed from the camp.”
She said the same man had been in another altercation and assault with a neighbour earlier this month.
“It was crazy, just crazy, the amount of [crime],” Stolz said. “I mean, our community mailboxes for us up here on Plecas [Road] and stuff. Just about every door on them was pried open and that happened three times in three weeks.”
Stolz said residents had been communicating via a community Block Watch social media group for about one year and were keeping tabs on the crime in the area and the people suspected of committing it.
“We’re tired of it,” Wood said. “Our community used to be a quiet, peaceful, fun-loving community and now people don’t want to go to the park. They don’t want to walk their dogs. They don’t want to go out quadding because they don’t know who they’re going to be up against and we’re just tired of it.”
Wood said a man and woman claiming homelessness who lived in a trailer on the site were helped to pack their belongings and their trailer was towed to another location.
“Unfortunately, the location that they chose was the next-worst camp on Nanaimo Lakes Road,” Wood said. “So that’s where they had it delivered to at our expense.”
Other campers, trailers and debris were trucked away for disposal.
“We’ve had a lot of community members come out with machines and trucks and excavators and tow trucks, at their own expense, and dumpsters,” Wood said.