Nanaimo council backs $65.5-million plan to deal with homelessness, other social issues

Nanaimo council has endorsed a $65.5-million plan to tackle homelessness and a raft of related social issues in the city in the next five years.

The funding target, which is dependent on help from senior governments, would support 4,300 people in 635 new program and housing spaces, and would also help co-ordinate services.

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Initiatives include adding permanent supportive housing, affordable housing and transitional housing that supports people who are moving from homelessness to more secure housing. The plan includes community treatment, intensive case-management, rapid re-housing, prevention services and rent supports.

The goal is for agencies and governments to work in partnership to roll out a comprehensive and co-ordinated plan for dedicating resources and services.

The action plan came out of work carried out over 18 months by a health and housing task force involving a wide range of stakeholders.

“We now have the groundwork for a very good partnership where we will create made-in-Nanaimo solutions,” Coun. Don Bonner, task force co-chair, told council.

The task force “has given us a much more detailed picture of our need in Nanaimo, which as city council, we will use to ensure our advocacy efforts are clear, data-informed and responsive to community need.”

The action plan is contingent on the willingness of organizations working in Nanaimo to “shift resources, change the ways they work and to overall better co-ordinate to achieve collective priorities,” the city said a statement.

Key to the plan is setting up a governance board to line up funding for an initial $18.5 million to house and support 280 people with health needs who have experienced homelessness for long periods.

Services would be co-ordinated to allow for a consistent triage of priority clients for supportive housing, the plan says.

Health and housing intervention teams would be able to provide immediate rental subsidies, paired with outreach with social and health supports for the most vulnerable.

About 6,000 people Nanaimo live on the brink of homelessness, the task force report said.

Nanaimo, similar to other communities on Vancouver Island and in B.C., has been wrestling with how to help people without homes, and best address mental-health and addictions problems.

In 2018, a tent city grew to hold about 300 campers, making it the largest in the province at that time.

There are about 600 people without homes in Nanaimo, Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said.

Two temporary supportive-housing shelters were set up and opened by the province to house people when the tent city was shut down.

Since then, the province and city have signed an agreement to support future new sites for permanent supportive housing for people in need. The first of the properties being developed by B.C. Housing under that agreement received initial backing from council this week.

A planned four-storey modular development at 702 Nicol St. will have 58 studio units, plus a family unit.

Krog pointed out at the council meeting that the city is not planning to spend $65 million.

“But we are certainly going to ask the levels of government that have the jurisdiction and legal responsibility to step up to the plate.”

Senior governments will be asked to co-ordinate their spending in an effective way, he said.

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