The Province has taken bold steps, but the crisis isn’t over

I would like to thank the Province and all others involved in taking bold steps to assist some of the most vulnerable in our community. I am so pleased and impressed with the commitment to action that the Province and many others have towards addressing the homelessness crisis here in Nanaimo!

If we look back around 10 months ago when the Province had committed to funding a $7M 44-unit housing project which failed to reach fruition due to decisions made by our prior Council, it is clear that the Province is very serious towards helping address the situation here in Nanaimo. With the Province showing its strong commitment to our community through bold steps which have now effectively bypassed the past 10 months of our prior Council’s inaction on this crisis by provisioning 170 units of much needed temporary housing and stabilizing the current encampment at 1 Port Drive, the Province clearly recognizes the severity and urgency of this crisis in our community. You can read more about the 170 unit project here. In statements to the media, the Province has also stated that they will be lining up 40 to 50 units of market rental housing for the homeless.

I fully support the temporary measures that have been taken, and while public consultation should have been part of the 170 unit project before the plans were set into place, the reality is that it was a unique circumstance where the Province needed to take control of the situation due to prior Council’s inaction and there was simply no time left to consult with the public beforehand. Our current Council can prevent this from occurring in the future by being proactive towards consultation with the community prior to provisioning land.

But the crisis isn’t over, and for some, it’s just beginning

We hear that many tent city occupants will move to one of the sites where the temporary modular housing are being installed. However, there is a significant number of homeless individuals which will not be moving to one of the sites – those homeless individuals remain unaddressed and relatively unspoken of; they are the ones on the street and in our parks, the (all but) forgotten.

It should go without saying that along with winter arriving fast, having the homeless reside on the streets and in parks as our previous Council directed is not a solution, it’s only a continuation of the status quo. It’s detrimental to the community both socially and economically, and is life threatening during harsh weather for those who are in a homeless state. Yet, it appears to be a possibility that’s going to continue.

In a recent NanaimoNewsNOW article aptly titled “City anticipating spike in fire incidents at homeless camps as Discontent City closes” it gives a brief glimpse into just one aspect of what the reality is when the situation remains unaddressed; from June to the end of September there were 35 fire incidents around Nanaimo caused by homelessness at various camps, and more are expected as the cold begins to set in.

In fact there’s many other negative aspects as well that all too quickly become normalized when the status quo remains such as increased incidents of public disorder and conflict, and in the amount of discarded needles in our public parks and school playgrounds – to name just two more of the many aspects.

Perhaps there are solutions in the works which go beyond the status quo; it’s possible that we as citizens have not yet been informed regarding potential plans in the works that go beyond pushing the homeless into the streets and parks, and the November 30th date where the downtown encampment is slated to be deconstructed and closed in entirety.

Either way, in my opinion, there is simply too much at stake here to sit idly while time passes. Accordingly, I have provided a “Plan B” in case there is no immediate plan or that the potential “Plan A” that may be in the works is essentially a continuation of the status quo.

It’s important to recognize the gravity of the situation we are in as winter arrives. The homelessness crisis is not just inconvenient and problematic – it has escalated to a point where it’s threatening in terms of health, safety, and well-being of the community. So let’s call it what it is by definition – it’s a humanitarian crisis. A serious one.

We need to do more before things get worse

As you may or may not be aware, the homeless didn’t just all suddenly arrive here. In the 2018 Point in Time Count report that was surveyed on April 18th 2018, prior to Discontent City being established, it stated that the minimum number of individuals experiencing absolute homelessness in Nanaimo was 335 – with the RCMP estimating that based on their ongoing work with the homeless population, the total number of homeless individuals in Nanaimo is well over 400.

The Capital Regional District is projected to achieve a Functional Zero for Chronic Homelessness in 2020-2021.

The Capital Regional District is projected to achieve a Functional Zero for Chronic Homelessness in 2020-2021. View Report

Even if we were to only consider the indicated amount of 335 homeless individuals that were successfully surveyed, it’s easy to see how rapidly the crisis is escalating due to inaction; since 2016 our homeless count has almost doubled, whereas in other regions such as the Capital Regional District which are being proactive about homelessness – they are making significant progress on this matter.

So while we do have 170 units of temporary housing being prepared for the end of November (which I am very thankful for), it cannot stop there; there’s many homeless individuals left with nowhere else to turn that are part of our community.

The City must continue working on the temporary aspects before Winter arrives. Our Council needs to take proactive steps, and advocate for more supports from the Province to assist with short term measures. This is a humanitarian crisis, and it needs to be treated as such.

Our Council must be proactive

The homelessness crisis faced here in Nanaimo literally affects everyone in our community, whether it be directly or indirectly. The longer we avoid addressing this crisis the worse things become for everyone, as we have seen. It takes time to get solutions of this nature into place and the more reactive we are, the less effective the results are – you can tell the solutions are purely reactive when the outcomes are resulting in a significant waste of resources and the many detrimental effects to local businesses and the community as a whole remain.

Sound familiar? Of course it does, that’s how it’s been approached in the past – Nanaimo has been experiencing the outfall of this type of approach for quite some time now, and the issue has escalated significantly into a crisis in many ways as a result.

To be effective, Council must be proactive and begin addressing this crisis in a broader sense; for the community, local businesses, and those who are in a homeless state.

To be proactive, Council needs to look at both the short and long term steps realistically, and to start, that means looking at the scope of the crisis.

It’s actually important that we all do that, because it’s up to us all as citizens to recognize the significance and importance of addressing this crisis and help support our Council towards taking large strides forward on this matter.

So how big is this crisis?

Thankfully with the 2018 Point in Time Count report that the Nanaimo Homelessness Coalition completed earlier this year, we know there are at least 335 homeless individuals here, and that realistically the number is much closer to 400.

With the documented number of 335 and the number of 400+ being estimated by the RCMP in the 2018 Point in Time Count report as being the amount of individuals that are in a homeless state here in Nanaimo as of April 2018, it’s reasonable to consider a range between 335-400 as being a fair number to base short term crisis planning upon.

If we don’t, we’re not looking at this with a broad enough scope and all measures applied will continue to be reactive as the numbers continue to increase proportionally, let alone due to the other key factors which are accelerating the crisis.

When we look at the amount of temporary sheltering that is currently available (or soon to be made available according to statements made by the provincial governments), it amounts to 286-296 units of accommodation:

  • 40-50 potential rental subsidies
  • 80 temporary units on Terminal Ave.
  • 90 temporary units on Labieux Rd.
  • 23 emergency shelter beds at the New Hope Centre for men
  • 21 emergency shelter beds at the Samaritan House for women
  • 32 emergency shelter beds at the Extreme Weather Shelter

This is positive as it reduces the scope of the immediate crisis significantly from the start range of 335-400 homeless individuals.

But it doesn’t mean we’re out of the water yet. With these numbers, we can see that the scope of the immediate crisis which remains unaddressed is somewhere between 49-114 homeless individuals.

To be very clear about what this means – it means that Nanaimo has between 49-114 homeless individuals which will soon be facing life threatening conditions on our streets, and in our parks and playgrounds – if a plan isn’t in place when winter conditions arrive.

Addressing the range of 49-114 homeless before winter arrives

This is where things could start to get more difficult because it is such a short time before winter arrives, but it actually doesn’t need to be difficult if our Council is seriously committed to action and takes solid steps forward.

As citizens we can help make things easier too. We all need to accept the reality of this humanitarian crisis and support our Council to be bold and decisive with this in mind – recognizing that the solutions however they are implemented simply aren’t going to be perfect – and they most likely won’t please everyone.

The bottom line is that we cannot continue to accept the status quo, and as well, NIMBYism cannot continue to influence decision making – as I stated above – it’s detrimental to the community both socially and economically, and is life threatening during harsh weather for those who are in a homeless state.

So if the potential “Plan A” that may be in the works is essentially a continuation of the status quo or doesn’t address the immediate aspects sufficiently, what can we do?

Let’s talk about a “Plan B”

Since it’s too late now to provision more temporary modular housing before winter arrives – even if the City was to request it – it simply won’t be ready in time. I would suggest that we should start discussing alternate plans just in case there isn’t a “Plan A” already being developed which will temporarily handle this situation sufficiently.

As a “Plan B”, I would propose that Council direct Staff to engage further with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to request an increase in commitment towards rental supplements for the homeless; an increase from the original number of 40 to 50 that was committed to, to a number that can properly address the life threatening weather conditions that will soon be upon the remainder of the homeless individuals who do not have shelter. To address that, it would require a commitment of 89 to 154 rental supplements in total (rather than just 40 to 50).

Staff has excellent documentation from the Nanaimo Homelessness Coalition to provide the Province as part of validating the request – the request for more assistance isn’t unreasonable. We are talking about 49 to 114 homeless individuals that are at life threatening risk if sufficient shelter isn’t available.

A temporary “Plan B” solution can proceed forth in a rapid manner if Council takes action and passes a motion such as the following:

Plan B Motion

Whereas Nanaimo is facing a humanitarian crisis that is threatening the health, safety, and well-being of the community, and that there is significant potential for life threatening conditions to exist during extreme weather conditions for the remaining 49 to 114 homeless individuals which are not addressed by the interim measures currently in progress, Council hereby directs Staff to:

  1. Consult with the Nanaimo Homelessness Coalition to seek input and assistance towards fortifying a case to request further assistance towards interim shelter measures from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The request for further interim shelter assistance may consist of an increase in the commitment towards rental supplements to be made available from 40-50, up to 89-154 or other amount as recommended by the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition, and/or other assistance towards interim shelter measures that the Nanaimo Homelessness Coalition recommends; and,
  2. Arrange a meeting with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to:
    1. Discuss the potential life threatening conditions that exist for the remaining 49 to 114 homeless individuals for which there is no interim shelter available during extreme weather conditions this winter season; and,
    2. Discuss potential solutions moving forward which can further address short-term shelter requirements during this winter season; and,
    3. Request further commitment towards interim sheltering measures which can address the unavailability of shelter for the remaining homeless individuals for which the current interim plans does not accommodate; and,
  3. Report back to Council at the next Council meeting with a status update on items 1 and 2.

In Conclusion

In this post I have went into detail around our immediate homelessness crisis and proposed a solution in the form of a “Plan B” which can help address short term aspects of the crisis. In a future post I will begin to tackle some of the other aspects around homelessness, but for now it’s time to wrap this up.

What are your thoughts around all of this – do you like the proposed “Plan B” or do you have another plan to suggest which could further address the immediate crisis?

Will you be supportive of our Council taking proactive bold steps to move forward with actions that help address the homelessness crisis we face here in Nanaimo?

6 replies
  1. Gail Collins
    Gail Collins says:

    So if this very detailed document (you put in a lot of work on it) means we ask the Council to provide the estimated number of spaces for those who will not be able to get anywhere warm in the winter and do some creative thinking and preparation now because it’s really starting to get cold out I agree.

    • Peter Urquhart
      Peter Urquhart says:

      Thanks for your comment Gail. Yes I do think we should encourage our Council to start moving forward on this and give them our support. Normally it would be land provision for the Province to put housing on, but in this case due to the immediate sense of winter arriving I think it’s more about starting with an advocacy role towards working with partners and requesting further support for interim shelter from the Province to address the winter conditions that are arriving fast. I noticed there was frost on the lawn this morning, winter’s right around the corner!

  2. Astrid Gordon
    Astrid Gordon says:

    Peter, this is why I voted for you. You have an analytical mind, a compassionate heart and great communication skills.
    I agree with your plan B. Now here’s the “but”. What if those 49 to 114 individuals don’t accept the help being offered to them? And where is the housing going to come from? Currently, it’s very difficult for those with the means and impeccable references to find rental accommodation. If it’s to come from the current rental stock then I see a problem.

    Sorry for the negativity. That’s how I think, always looking for obstacles.

    • Peter Urquhart
      Peter Urquhart says:

      Thanks Astrid I appreciate you saying that!  

      I don’t think you’re being negative at all, you’re being realistic and looking further into the implementation – they’re good questions. Let me give some background first.

      There are a few reasons why I didn’t go into these parts – primarily because I felt that articulating the immediacy of the winter was most important, and trying to get people on board with moving forward in that context through presenting baby steps was the way to go. It’s an angle that I think most people can possibly find some consensus on; I think most if not all of us are on board that we don’t want to see people dying in our streets due to weather conditions. So my thoughts were – let’s start there and work on building support; we’ve got a long way to go towards acceptance and there’s some big barriers to overcome…

      As well, I didn’t go into depth on these two items because I was concerned that the potential difficulties and perceived complications could be used as a case for inaction. That seems to happen too often and that needs to stop being an excuse. If we don’t start opening doors, there won’t be anymore doors opened for us.

      So the key piece for me in this Plan B, was really all about starting to move the dial – to encourage the mind towards being supportive, taking proactive steps, and working on getting a further commitment of resources. How the resources flow through can be quite fluid and implementations can differ greatly depending on what is agreed upon in essence is structured. It’s also a case where there are likely to be other ideas that hit the table when something like this starts to get explored – I don’t claim to have all the answers; in fact I’m quite sure I don’t.

      To answer your questions in the context of the concept I’ve provided in the post though:

      Regarding housing stock, through the winter there are generally more vacancies available at local motels/lodgings and is where many temporary emergency placements go through emergency type programs. Under that type of funding stream, rooms in private homes are often utilized as well. The largest barrier is in our zoning bylaw, yet there is a lot of room within a variety of our zones as is under this context, and there is also considerable leeway under section 6.21 for all residential zones within our Bylaw 4500 for that to occur without requiring any zoning changes – which under this particular section means that things can happen relatively quick upon meeting the stipulation that a housing agreement is entered with the city. There are advantages for rentals of this nature for owners, and the risk is also greatly reduced in all cases of this interim type of housing by having a residential tenancy agreement addendum in place. So if the funding commitment is there for a considerable amount of rental supplements, without a doubt there would be many people willing to take on one or more temporary placements once they were made aware of what it would all entail and how it would work.

      Regarding the individuals who simply won’t accept the help being offered, I suspect this is the scenario where many of the unaddressed homeless will fit into – at least until some trust is built. It’s just a gut feeling – I don’t have specific stats for you, but I suspect that some of the additional resources would be under utilized.

      This is a good thing in some ways, and not so good in others – on the plus side it means that the resources are at least there and leaves potential room for resource renegotiation/redistribution as other options become available. On the other hand, it means that other options that are available to explore which haven’t been spoken about yet, are ones that we will need to seriously start talking about very soon and they’re difficult ones to approach for a few reasons, mostly because of perceptive barriers – many of which that can be overcome through educational efforts.

      It’s with those difficulties in mind though that I would rather stick with the baby steps here for now and leave the other options for a future discussion – I hope that’s ok for now.

      My desire here, is to encourage some baby steps to move forward at the City’s end – for our Council to get bold and proactive. I believe that would help start to pave the way towards opening the doors of discussion further on some difficult topics, and the sooner we can start getting to those difficult conversations and supporting forward progress the better.

      Thanks for weighing in! 🙂

    • Valorie Lennox
      Valorie Lennox says:

      That was absolutely my first thought Astrid. Even with a subsidy, WHAT market housing are they going to rent? As far as I can tell from posts on social media, there is almost nothing out there to rent.

      I’ve been saying for months that rental subsidies are needed for the low-income working/senior/disabled homeless/at-risk individuals for whom accommodation has climbed out of reach. IMHO, this is a population for whom the only barrier is cost: until the recent spike in rental costs, they were able to house themselves and maintain housing.

      On the plus side, these people are likely to be acceptable to landlords IF they can find a place to rent. It’s a big “IF’.

      For the entrenched/long-term homeless and addicted, there are more barriers to housing than just cost. I’m hoping there will be enough government-funded-with-supports units to house all of them. Plan B won’t work: I can’t see them being accepted into market housing. Landlords are skittish enough as it is…and for good reason. 🙁

      I don’t see your post as negative, Astrid Gordon. I see it as realistic.

      • Peter Urquhart
        Peter Urquhart says:

        Hi Valorie, I’ve touched upon your concerns in my comment above in response to Astrid – it definitely was a good question. To summarize, with the temporary lodging aspect that I’ve focused on in this post the terms and conditions are a bit different; as I described above it’s a different target market – which essentially consists of motels, room billeting, and rental addendums – and as a result isn’t really oriented or focused towards the general housing supply with standard landlord/tenant arrangements.

        Where you state Plan B won’t work because you can’t see them being accepted into market housing, I understand that is your opinion but I respectfully disagree and think it’s important to touch on this a bit in its essence. I believe it’s important when assessing the viability of potential solutions, to validate/invalidate them based on research and evidence whenever possible.

        When I did research on the viability of expanding out this aspect and how it could potentially work, I found a variety of ways that this has been successfully overcome – and while I make no claim that its easy or that “skittish landlords” aren’t an (understandable) barrier of sorts, what I found is that it’s not an end-all barrier and that the option appears to be quite viable.

        If you think of other options to move forward with that you like and think could work towards addressing temporary lodging aspects in the current time frame I hope you will share them – I would be interested in hearing them! Thanks for pitching in and sharing your thoughts.

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