Housing minister’s Nanaimo shelter remark slammed

Housing Minister Selina Robinson cites no increase in crime, but police figures show big jump

B.C.’s housing minister is being criticized for wrongly stating there’s been no crime increase around Nanaimo shelters, despite police statistics showing a major spike in drug trafficking and street disorder.

Housing Minister Selina Robinson wrote in an April 4 letter to B.C. Liberal MLA Rich Coleman that his suggestion that crime has increased around supportive housing sites in Nanaimo was incorrect. “I have received confirmation from Nanaimo RCMP that there has been no increase in crime at the sites at 250 Terminal Avenue and 2020 Labieux Road,” she wrote.

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However, on April 8, Nanaimo RCMP Supt. Cameron Miller told Nanaimo council that calls for service around the Terminal Avenue shelter had increased 66 per cent when comparing the period Nov. 20, 2018 to March 25, 2019 to the same period a year earlier.

Calls for service around the Labieux Road area increased by 150 per cent versus the same time frame a year earlier.

Liberal MLA Jas Johal jumped on the discrepancy during question period in the legislature: “The minister’s statement is patently false, and for her to be unaware of the facts shows a shocking level of incompetence.”

“The fact that residents feel their neighhourhood has declined since this modular residence has opened, should be the ultimate statistic that defines the success of these projects,” Johal said in an interview. Johal said Robinson should go up to Nanaimo and speak with residents to hear their concerns.

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Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson listens during a housing announcement in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. - Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press

Robinson did not directly address Johal’s line of questioning, but said the NDP government worked to address the issue of tent cities across B.C. after years of neglect under the Liberal government.

She said supportive housing complexes include wrap-around support with round-the-clock staffing and help from medical professionals.

Robinson hopes the Liberals will realize that modular homes “are valuable resources for communities and for people who are homeless, making sure we have housing and supports for people so they can be successful in their lives.”

Nanaimo’s two supportive-housing shelters were opened by the B.C. government after a tent city, once home to 300-plus campers, was shut down late last year.

Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden came under fire this week for saying homeless people are “raping and pillaging all of our community and our businesses” as he pushed back against a proposed modular housing project in his community. He cited increased police activity around Nanaimo’s two supportive housing sites as evidence the government’s modular housing strategy is failing.

Premier John Horgan told reporters that he knows that homeless challenges across British Columbia can put a strain on communities. But many communities have benefited from modular housing units, including Terrace, Smithers and Surrey, he said.

“We brought forward solutions in the form of modular housing programs that provide not just a roof but also wrap-around services for the people that may have struggles with mental health and addictions and may have difficulty finding employment,” he said. “I think the majority of British Columbians would prefer to see people in housing that have services connected to it rather than living in squalor in a tent city.”

Horgan said communities must work with law enforcement to ensure crime issues are dealt with. “We’re going to work hard to make sure we get it right, but we have to address these problems,” he said.

The Island Crisis Care Society operates the Terminal facility under a contract with the province and Pacifica Housing manages the Labieux site.

The Nanaimo RCMP detachment is creating a task force of up to six officers who will focus on cracking down on criminal activity around Terminal Avenue and Labieux Road.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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