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Long-awaited navigation centre planned for Nanaimo

Land lease would be effective in early July with centre expected to open in early 2025
A proposed navigation centre in Nanaimo would be on municipal land between the Trans-Canada Highway and Old Victoria Road. VIA B.C. HOUSING

A long-awaited navigation centre to provide critical services and temporary beds for Nanaimo residents who have no place to live has moved closer to reality.

Subject to approval from the City of Nanaimo, the province will lease 1030 Old Victoria Rd. from the municipality for a nominal fee and spend about $5.1 million to put up the facility. The modular project will have about 60 private sleeping units.

The lease would be effective in early July and the centre is expected to open in early 2025, the province said.

“It’s a very good day for Nanaimo,” Mayor Leonard Krog said Friday. The city has a serious problem with unhoused people who suffer from mental illness, addictions, trauma and brain injury, he said.

“This very welcome news for us. We have waited a long time.”

Plans for a navigation centre in Nanaimo, to be opened in 2021, were first announced in 2020, the year the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The centre will not solve all problems, Krog said, “but it is going to improve immeasurably the lives of a whole bunch of people who have suffered from a lack of supports and housing.” They will be able to get the supports and supervision they need, he said.

The province is also exploring the possibility of putting up permanent housing on the property.

The navigation centre is intended to serve people who are going through long-term homelessness and need a higher level of services than are normally offered in a shelter.

“People who have been chronically homeless often face complex challenges and need additional support to get back on their feet and start to rebuild their lives,” said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon.

The province is to cover annual operating funding, a Housing Ministry official said.

Vancouver Island Mental Health Society will run the facility and staff it around the clock.

The operator will work in partnership with health providers and offer services to help residents find housing.

Each sleeping unit will have a locking door, a bed and a place for belongings. There will be communal washrooms, a commercial kitchen, a laundry-utility room, an amenity room and office space.

A daily meal will be offered.

Taryn O’Flanagan, the society’s executive director, said: “The centre will provide a safe and supportive access point in the continuum of housing, which is an important step in ensuring the well-being of people in this community.”

Some initial site clearing has already taken place, with more site work expected to get underway after the lease is signed.

The goal is to deliver health care, including mental-health and addiction treatment, so that people can stabilize their lives and be able to stay in housing, said Sheila Malcolmson, MLA for Nanaimo.

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