Nanaimo schoolhouse squatters cause tens of thousands of dollars of damage

Nanaimo schoolhouse squatters cause tens of thousands of dollars of damage
School District 68 Expecting a Big Repair Bill
The school will need repairs and cleaning that may cost over $100,000. Theres also a new cost for security in case protesters return.

The chairman of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school board was “sickened” and “mortified” when he saw damage in a school that had been occupied by more than two dozen protesters.

The group, which includes members of the Alliance Against Displacement, broke into the school on Friday, claiming the action to be in opposition to "anti-homeless hate" related to a Sept. 21 B.C. Supreme Court injunction ordering people out of the Nanaimo DisconTent City homeless encampment.

School squatters damage could cost $100K to repair

Steve Rae said hazardous-materials experts will be hired to clean up Rutherford Elementary School to make it safe for Canadian Union of Public Employees workers, who normally clean the school.

The chair of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school board says squatter activists who occupied a closed school for 18 hours over the weekend left behind a mess that will cost the district at least $100,000 to clean up and repair.

He estimates repair and cleaning costs at $100,000, but said that could be a conservative figure. There’s also a new cost for security in case protesters return.

"We acknowledge clearly that there is a homeless issue in Nanaimo and in the province of British Columbia and we have extreme empathy for it, but this is not the way to go about helping your cause."

“We are not going to stand for it,” Rae said. “We will react the same way if they try again.”

"But the most troubling part for me was the amount of drugs we found in there. There were cases of needles, there were naloxone kits all over the place."

On Friday, a group of 26 people, consisting of homeless advocates with Surrey-based Alliance Against Displacement and residents of Discontent City in Nanaimo, entered the school, which is closed. The five-month-old DisconTent City has as many as 300 residents, making it the largest tent city in B.C.

Protesters moved into the school shortly after the province announced it had spent $3.6 million to help with the homeless situation in Nanaimo.

On Twitter the group claimed the school was already a mess, with "textbooks, school supplies and trash … strewn everywhere when we entered."

It is bringing in 170 units of temporary modular supportive housing, and expects to find rental units for another 40 or 50 people. The money was spent to buy and install the modular structures and to purchase one of two sites to be used for housing.

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Oct. 8, 2018 – Homeless protesters left behind a mess at a Nanaimo school after a protest. Facebook photo. [PNG Merlin Archive] PNG

"I was mortified. They destroyed all the doors on the bottom floor. They cut holes in the roof to hang their signs on," said Rae.

RCMP cordoned off the school on Friday. The next day, they entered the school, negotiated with and arrested protesters. The occupation was over by 2 p.m. Watching events were about 400 residents angry that protesters had gone into the building.

It also claimed the RCMP was responsible for the damage shown in the photos, a statement Rae calls "absolutely ridiculous."

Weapons, drugs, a full syringe with an unknown substance, needles, tools and food, including pasta, peanut butter, bananas and cases of water, were found, he said. A kitchen had been set up.

"I walked into the building with the RCMP as soon as it was safe and it was a complete and total disaster," he said.  

“It was very well-organized,” he said. “I could tell they planned on being there for an extended period of time.”

Rae posted a statement on his Facebook page: “They destroyed all our doors on the ground floor. Went through everything and threw crap everywhere.

“Upstairs we found drug paraphernalia everywhere. They put holes in the roof, which has caused a lot of damage. The[y] broke windows and ripped stuff off the walls.”

They believe he may be a member of the Alliance Against Displacement and was dropping someone off at the property when his vehicle began to be hit.

Cleanup costs will come out of school-district money that would otherwise have gone toward education, Rae said.

This situation is a tragedy because homelessness is a real issue, not just in Nanaimo but throughout B.C., and the occupation was not the way to deal with it, Rae said.

Listen Chen, Alliance spokeswoman, said the group wanted to turn the school “into a home and a source of shelter” for homeless people who would otherwise be outdoors.

Officials say one man suffered minor injuries after he was allegedly assaulted at Nanaimo’s Discontent City.

Chen said she was arrested and charged with break-and-enter on Saturday. The first court appearance is in December. She is from the Lower Mainland and is in Nanaimo for a few days.

Ivan Drury was also arrested but had not been released by RCMP as of Sunday afternoon because he was refusing to agree to a list of conditions, which others signed, Chen said. Drury is a well-known housing activist from Vancouver.

More people wanted to go into the school but were unable to because RCMP blocked them from entering, she said.

Although Chen considers the province’s housing plan insufficient, she credits the political organization around DisconTent City for prompting the government to take action.

As far as the province’s aim to house everyone in need at the tent city, “Nobody believes that,” she said.

Modular housing is inadequate and people do not like the restrictions placed on tenants in that kind of supportive housing, she said.

If the province wants people to believe that permanent housing to replace the modular housing is coming, it needs to have a concrete plan in place, she said.

Chen disagrees with those who think the Alliance is pushing its own agenda onto Nanaimo’s homeless people. “DisconTent City has always had a political agenda.”

Nanaimo’s homeless politicized the issue themselves, and the Alliance is supporting them, she said. A group of homeless people set up tents on the lawn of Nanaimo city hall prior to DisconTent City being set up.

A narrative about protesters from elsewhere coming to Nanaimo is a xenophobic idea, given that homelessness is an issue provincewide, nationally and beyond, she said.

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District estimates it’s going to cost about $100,000 dollars to repair Rutherford Elementary.

Protesters broke into the school in Nanaimo this weekend to protest the lack of affordable housing and an injunction that was handed down by a BC Supreme Court judge on Discontent City.

The squatters were eventually arrested by the RCMP and police are recommending charges of break and enter and criminal mischief.