Nanaimo “Wesley Warriors” fight back against the police displacement of their long standing encampment

On Thursday December 3rd, a fire broke out in the long standing unhoused people’s encampment along both sidewalks on the short, narrow Wesley Street in Nanaimo. The tents near the fire were damaged but no one was hurt. 

The real disaster started after the fire. The City of Nanaimo and the RCMP immediately seized the occasion of the fire to do what they had previously been unable to: displace the Wesley Strip.

Tim Doyle, Nanaimo’s deputy fire chief, told reporters that Bylaw officers made the on-the-spot decision to evacuate the entire camp. And then the RCMP fenced off the Strip and refused anyone access to their shelters and belongings.

Outside the police-occupied encampment, people were pretty scattered. A couple groups of camp residents sat in the adjacent parking lot with the belongings they were able to gather up as police hustled them away. The police gave residents 10 minutes to grab what they could, and then they put up a fence at the entrance to the alleyway. 

Into the evening of the day of the fire, there were still 4 cop cars, and at least 6 cops patrolling the fence to the strip and the surrounding area.  Doyle assured reporters that “agencies are working on it to help support the people who are displaced from the fire.” “Support” looked like a scramble of outreach workers handing out water and some blankets. 

Bylaw officers told residents that they could come back the next morning between 8 and 8:30 am to pick up the rest of their belongings. Anything left would be thrown away. 

It was a lie. At 8:30 am, the police brought bulldozers in to destroy and discard the rest of the camp. In the mess of destruction, people lost their IDs, family photos, personal belongings, and their homes.

The City’s cynical use of a fire to displace the Wesley Strip encampment continues a years-long cycle of displacement and terror against Nanaimo’s homeless population. Now displaced yet again, a flurry of Bylaw and RCMP officers are harassing and arresting those who have tried to seek shelter elsewhere. 

The displaced residents of the Wesley Strip gathered together on the weekend and started to plan a fightback. Adopting the name “Wesley Warriors,” the group decided to call a rally against the devastating police sweep of the Wesley Strip, to denounce the overwhelming blanket of bylaw and police sweeps the City has unleashed since, and to bring the community back together in struggle. 

On Tuesday December 8th at 10 am, the Wesley Warriors rallied at Maffeo Sutton Park with two dozen supporters, spoke out, and marched on Nanaimo City Hall. 

These speeches from two leaders of the street community and founders of the Wesley Warriors, Renee and Willie, explain the harm caused by the City displacement of the Wesley Strip and reveal the cynical PR spin of Nanaimo’s Mayor Leonard Krog, who postured in the media pretending he is working for shelter supports for people on the streets of Nanaimo. 

Most importantly, in the words of the street community leaders, we can glimpse the arc of an ongoing struggle. From the establishment and operation of the Discontent City camp and its dramatic conclusion in the Schoolhouse Squat in 2018, to resident struggles against the double evil of supportive modular housing institutionalization and police and bylaw criminalization and street sweeps, to the Wesley Strip displacement, the street community in Nanaimo is locked in struggle against the City, police, and vigilante public that is attacking them. This latest conflict on Wesley Street is galvanizing the resolve of the community.

Displaced from the safer community of Wesley Street to daily displacement, isolation, and danger

By Renee

Renee speaks at the Wesley Warriors’ march (Chris Bush/Nanaimo News Bulletin)

I’ve worked my entire life. I’ve been a contributing member of society. I’ve paid my taxes. I’ve lived right. Why am I here? Grief. Plain and simply: grief. 

I was terrified when I knew that I was going to be out on the streets and homeless, until I ran into Wesley Street and the community they had become there. I actually felt safe. I saw that there were people that were able to bring us supplies like socks and jackets and blankets because they knew where we were. 

We had community – we had each other’s backs. And now we have been thrown out to the wolves. I no longer feel safe. 

I’m trying to trip through Bowen Park where I’ve been told I’m allowed to camp between 7pm and 9am. Well that’s great, that’s awesome, but have you guys seen what it’s like outside? Can you imagine what it’s like to have to get out of your tent in the morning when it’s pouring rain? 

I’ve got a dog, who I’ve had for about 8 years, and when I have to pick him up and put him outside of that tent, so I can pack it up and put it away so that the rest of Nanaimo doesn’t see there’s a problem here; I have a huge problem with that. 

I’m so full of aches and pains in my hips, my back, my feet. The cold does not help. And I tell you, being shoved out into it every day has actually diminished my life dramatically. 

I’m disgusted by the way we were given “all sorts of time” to pull our gear out of our tents, but we weren’t allowed to take our tents, which I paid $220 for, by the way. It’s just gone. It’s gone into the garbage with a bulldozer. Why? Why is it okay to steal my stuff? Why is it okay that the police and the city can just come and clean sweep it all? And then say that we are the disorder. That’s wrong in every way. 

We didn’t have one single death, or overdose that led to death on Wesley Street. Now we’re being shoved out into the bushes alone, where there aren’t 5, 6, 7, 10, 20, 70 people who will have your back when something happens. 

We have vigilantes, our “great citizens of Nanaimo,” running around and burning our tents, beating people up that are lying in their tents. That didn’t happen on Wesley, but it’s happening out in the bushes. What are we supposed to do? We need an answer.

Nanaimo recently allotted $180,000 to this Clean Sweep Team to chase us around and move us out. At 11:30 at night, I had just finished setting up my tent. The police showed up telling us, “Oh no, you guys gotta get out of here.” Bylaw says, “Oh yes, you can be here,” then the police come and say, “Oh no, you can’t.” It’s a joke!

That’s bad enough, but then to start laughing at us and saying, “It doesn’t matter where you go, we’re going to find you.” Wow. These are our “protectors,” threatening our safety. My mental safety. That’s wrong in every way. 

They took Discontent City down, leading Nanaimo to believe that everyone’s been housed and taken care of. That’s the biggest lie that’s ever been told.

Homelessness is not going away. Not everyone on the street is on drugs, and if they are, so what! You try to be out here every day! In fact, I challenge any one of you guys to live for one night with us. Watch us get chased by the City. Watch us leave to run up to the store to get my dog some water and come back to see my tent trashed and everything gone. Why? 

It’s not the other people on our block stealing from us, it’s the City saying, “Oh you guys abandoned stuff.” I’ve never abandoned anything in my life! I’ve lost three tents so far. I’ve lost sleeping bags. Thank goodness there’s some good people in Nanaimo who donated so many things because I almost feel like I need a tent for every day of the week. I turn around and boom, it’s going to be gone. 

We’ve spent $180,000 allocated to the Clean Sweep police. Do you know how many people that would house for even three months? About 70. 

They took Discontent City down, leading Nanaimo to believe that everyone’s been housed and taken care of. That’s the biggest lie that’s ever been told. At least half of those people are still on the street and they’ve been getting chased for two years now. That is sick. 

And they say we’re the ones with the disorder, we’re the social disorder. Wow. What sense does that make? None. 

Homelessness will not go away because what we’re doing so far isn’t helping, it’s not working. And every time you take our tents, what do you think that means? We have to go out and steal some more, don’t we? We can’t even do the basics like keep ourselves warm, you come in and take our propane, our candles. Anything that we can find any bit of luxury or warmth with, you come in and just take. How dare you! 

It’s ridiculous, we’ve never assaulted anyone down there, we’ve never attacked anybody, but we’ve been attacked. And we’re getting attacked everywhere out there. We’re not safe. And people are going to die this year because of the ignorance of the people sitting behind the desk. It’s disgusting. 

I’m not asking for anything more than the basics of living. I’m begging you, Nanaimo, to pull your heads out so you can actually see what’s going on here. How disgusting it is. 

“We’re not going away; we’re going to get mad”

By Willie

What do you expect people are going to do? We’re not going away. We’re going to get mad sooner or later and something’s going to have to be done. 

They lost all of their belongings, everything. They have nothing. You can’t do this to people. They did this at Discontent City, and they did it again on Wesley Street. 

They keep telling people to go, well, go where? Go to another town, well, what’s that going to solve? There’s going to be the same problem in that town. 

We’re not going anywhere, we’ve got family here. 

We need to have some help, somewhere to go besides having to move every day. 

Don’t just leave us staying here out in the rain. Snow is coming, and there’s going to be freezing people out there dying. And you can live with that on your conscience? 

You’ve got vigilantes running around hurting these people, kicking them out and telling them to go away, they’re breaking their bones, it’s bad. 

I’m not just concerned about myself, I’m concerned about all of us. 

I can’t even find most of them, they’re scattered everywhere. And with these vigilantes out, they’re on their own now. No one to look after them or protect them, nothing. How would you feel? 

We have to do something. We’re still out here since Discontent City and we’re not going away.

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