A new independent society is being set up in Nanaimo to co-ordinate efforts to tackle long-standing social problems, including homelessness, and to work together on advocacy.
Nanaimo Coun. Erin Hemmens said the new organization, to be called the Nanaimo Systems Planning Organization Society, is “valuable and much-needed.”
Plans call for it to have its first meeting before this summer and an executive director working by early fall.
“Many individuals and organizations have dedicated their time and efforts to trying to find solutions to an overwhelming situation, and I am grateful to have been a part of those discussions,” said Hemmens, who co-chaired the city’s health and housing task force.
“The path forward will be much clearer with the focused guidance, action and advocacy of the SPO.”
It was made clear during the work of the task force that “we didn’t have enough money coming into the community and there are only so many levers we can pull along those lines,” Hemmens said Friday.
“The money that we did have coming in wasn’t necessarily well co-ordinated because all of the service providers were throwing their money at the front lines, which is where it was desperately needed.”
There were likely attempts to create something similar to the new organization previously, she said. But “I don’t think there has been a structural move like this before where we’ve had all the partners at the table and everyone saying, ‘OK, let’s try this together.’ ”
A complex collection of difficult-to-solve social issues has been worrying city residents and officials for several years. These include health issues such as opioid overdoses, a lack of affordable and supportive housing, the need for specialized services, and crime.
In 2018, Nanaimo had the largest tent city in the province. It was dismantled and the city has since moved more than once to take down groups of tents. Although new facilities, such as supportive housing, have been introduced, chronic social problems remain.
The city is not alone in its challenges. The province announced Thursday it was commissioning a report to make recommendations on tackling the problems of stranger violence and prolific offenders, problems seen in other B.C. communities.
Nanaimo council approved a charter for the new organization and will fund it at $480,000 per year for five years to see it established, Bill Corsan, director of corporate and business development, said Friday. During that time, the independent society is expected to seek other funding sources.
The organization was recommended by the city’s health and housing task force, set up in 2019. The task force delivered a plan in 2021, which was endorsed by council.
Council voted unanimously on May 2 in favour of a charter allowing for the establishment of the new organization.
It will be managed by an executive director and a board of nine directors.
The society will provide research, data, analysis, education and information related to homelessness prevention and response.
It will allow for a co-ordinated action and advocacy response by Nanaimo’s non-profit organizations, Snuneymuxw First Nation and other levels of government, the business sector and the broader community, the city said in a release.
Mayor Leonard Krog said the number of people without a fixed address having involvement with police increased by more than 20 per cent in 2021 compared with 2020.
He said the new society will be “a huge step forward.”
It will maximize the return on investment, “meaning that resources aimed to address an end to homelessness in Nanaimo are as effective as possible and will bring about much-needed change,” Krog said.