People experiencing homelessness who lived in the Wesley Street encampment before last week’s fire say they lost possessions when the city moved to dismantle the camp.
A rally by the Wesley Warriors, a group made up of former residents of the camp and people who regularly accessed the space, happened Tuesday, Dec. 8. The rally was promoted by the Red Braid Alliance, formerly the Alliance Against Displacement group that founded Discontent City and led the Schoolhouse Squat at Rutherford School.
Those speaking at the press conference this morning disputed the City of Nanaimo’s contention that residents were given time to collect their belongings from Wesley Street after the Dec. 4 fire that burned up several tents.
“In the mess of destruction, people lost their IDs, family photos, personal belongings, and their homes,” the release noted. “The city’s cynical use of a fire to displace the Wesley street encampment continues a years-long cycle of displacement and terror against Nanaimo’s homeless population.”
Renee Mayers, 49, one of the Wesley Street encampment residents displaced when the city dismantled the camp, was one of two camp residents who spoke at the rally. She said she felt safe in the camp and argued that people need a stable site to live in where their basic needs can be met.
“We had access to water there. We had community. We had each others’ backs and now we have been thrown out to the wolves,” Mayers said. “I no longer feel safe.”
She said she has moved to Bowen Park where she’s forced by city bylaws to break camp at 9 a.m. each morning and set up her camp again every evening at 7 p.m.
“Have you guys seen what it’s like outside? Can you imagine having to get out of your tent when it’s pouring rain? I’ve got a dog, who I’ve had for about eight years, and I have to pick him up and put him outside of that tent, so I can unpack it and put it away, so the rest of Nanaimo doesn’t see that there’s a problem. I have a huge problem with that,” she said. “I’m so full of aches and pains. My hips. My back. My feet. The cold does not help and I’ll tell you being shoved out into it every day has actually diminished my life dramatically.”
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Mayers lost some belongings in the displacement, including her tent that she said was bulldozed by the city. Mayers said since the camp’s residents were dispersed there have been vigilantes beating up people experiencing homelessness and burning their tents and that the police force them out of areas they’re approved to be in by city bylaws.
“That didn’t happen on Wesley Street, but it’s happening out in the bushes … I’m not asking for more than the basics of living,” she said. “I’m begging Nanaimo to pull your heads out, so you can actually see what’s really going on here and how disgusting it is.”
Willie McGillivary said the city was wrong to disperse the campers and dispose of their tents.
“They did this at [Discontent City]. They did this now at Wesley Street. What are they going to do?” McGillivary said. “They tell the people to go. Go where? Go to another town? What’s that going to solve if you have the same problem in that town? … They’re not all on drugs. They’re good human beings, some of them – most of them … we need to help them. We need to have somewhere for them to go besides having to move every day.”
A statement from the City of Nanaimo last week noted that Nanaimo Fire Rescue issued an order to disperse residents and clear Wesley Street due to the “physical danger from the proximity of tents, fuel and heating sources at the fire scene.”
At Monday’s city council meeting, Mayor Leonard Krog, in his mayor’s report, spoke briefly about the fire at the encampment and said the city would have more to say at a later date about the decision to dismantle the camp.
“None of us wish to see our fellow citizens sleeping in the streets of this city, particularly in the winter,” he said.