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Nanaimo's Response to Homelessness Action Plan

Wesley Street, Uplands Drive and Boundary Crescent Supported Housing Projects update

The low barrier supported housing project at 437 Wesley street is completed and fully occupied. The 36 unit apartment complex has 40 residents, all formerly homeless individuals, who now have permanent, supported, safe and affordable housing.

437 Wesley St

437 Wesley Street

 

Also, the City of Nanaimo has received a Development Permit Application from Pacifica Housing for the supported housing project at 6025 Uplands Drive; and from Nanaimo Affordable Housing Society for the supported housing project at 1597 Boundary Crescent.

 

The City of Nanaimo is committed to addressing the key social issues facing our community, including affordable housing and homelessness. These commitments are spelled out in "Nanaimo's Response to Homelessness Action Plan (2008)", and the "Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)".

 

Below is a Shaw television interview from May 2013 conducted by Ian Holmes with a City staff member about the City's initiative to house the homeless.

 

This initiative is one of many strategic actions being taken to address the issue of homelessness in Nanaimo. The Nanaimo Working Group on Homelessness has been working for nine years with a number of agencies, funded by the Government of Canada, on initiatives to address homelessness. The Province of BC has also contributed significantly by funding programs and services for those at risk of homelessness. In November 2008, the City entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Province. In April 2009, Rich Coleman, Minister of Housing and Social Development, announced funding for the Wesley Street and Tenth Street projects identified in the Memorandum. In June 2010, the Minister announced the remaining funding for the supportive housing projects.

 

All together, the City will be moving forward with our partners at BC Housing and the non-profit sector to develop the five housing projects, for a total of approximately 160 units. These projects are located across the city, from the far south end to the north, and will provide housing for a range of citizens, including the homeless, the elderly, First Nations, youth, and those with a mental illness or disability. We welcome input on the development of these buildings from members of the public.

The Provincial Homelessness Initiative provides funding for non-profit housing developments with support services that address homelessness. Under this initiative, supportive housing will be developed at five sites located across the City;

Frequently Asked Questions

What is supportive housing? Supportive housing is conventional apartment-style housing with staff support provided on-site for the people that live there. The apartments have staff available at all times to oversee the buildings and to help tenants find the services they need. Residents are expected to follow strict rules with regard to their conduct both inside and outside the buildings. If they are homeless because they have an addiction, they will not be required to enter into a rehab program or embrace sobriety in order to be considered as a possible tenant. However, residents' behaviour must not negatively impact other building residents or the surrounding neighbourhoods. Failure to comply with this requirement will constitute grounds for tenant relocation.

Who will be living in these apartments? Men and women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Nanaimo's Working Group on Homelessness surveyed the homeless population in Nanaimo in Nanaimo five times between 2005 and 2008 (view surveys). In July 2001, the Social Planning and Research Council of BC produced a research report on hidden homelessness in Nanaimo and other BC communities (view report).

What kind of supervision will there be in these buildings? BC Housing has committed to providing on-site staffing for each building for the next 60 years. The staff will be employees of the non-profit society managing the buildings and will work with residents of the buildings to ensure they are successful in their tenancy, and with neighbours to ensure that the buildings integrate successfully into the neighbourhoods.

What rules are residents subject to in these buildings? These buildings take a “harm reduction” or “low-barrier” approach, which aims to reduce the risks and harmful effects associated with substance use and addictive behaviour for the person, community and society as a whole. This approach is premised on the notion that clients are not required to be sober to access housing or services. Use of alcohol or other substances will not be tolerated in the public areas of the building or within the surrounding neighbourhood; however, the non-profit society operating the building may choose to tolerate substance use by tenants in the privacy of their apartment as long as they do not disturb other tenants or neighbours. There will be no tolerance for any behaviour that affects the quality of life or security of the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Does the Official Community Plan support this form of housing? Yes, the Official Community Plan contains a number of objectives and policy statements which provide direction and support for supportive housing. These objectives and policies are primarily located in "Section 3.2. Affordable Housing" of the OCP. Relevant policy statements include to "disperse non-profit and special needs housing opportunities throughout the city", and to "lease City-owned residential land to non-profit housing societies".

Why are these housing developments located in close proximity to seniors and schools? Is that safe? Every neighbourhood in Nanaimo contains both seniors and children (view a demographic analysis of the community by neighbourhoodbased on Census Canada data). The RCMP believes that the proposed locations are entirely appropriate and that the population poses no risk to the surrounding neighbourhoods.

What is the RCMP's position with regard to supported housing? The RCMP fully supports the City's Housing First strategy and the City's Response to Homelessness Action Plan. In fact, the RCMP were among the first people to call for a better solution to the problem of homelessness on Nanaimo's streets and the public disorder it can create. In the late 1990's there was much talk about the "four pillars" approach to reduce the issues of homelessness, mental health and addictions. This approach was adopted by City of Vancouver in 2001. At the time, the Nanaimo Detachment of the RCMP stated that they were there to provide the "enforcement" pillar but where were the services to provide the other three pillars (prevention, treatment, and harm reduction)? So, in many ways, the RCMP have been involved in the development of the Housing First strategy from day one. The RCMP also faced a problem of where to refer a person who was homeless. The choice often became one of sending them to the ER department or the city lock-up, which resulted in a drain on police (and hospital) resources. "We need a place where we can take these folks", said Cst. David Laberge.

Will the construction of supported housing lead to an increase in crime? The RCMP have stated that they see supported housing as part of the City's crime reduction strategy. "If homeless people are in stable housing, there is less likelihood that they may create public disorder on the streets and will be in a better position to address life challenges they may face." said Officer-in-Charge Supt. Norm McPhail, Nanaimo RCMP.

What is the RCMP's role? The RCMP will continue to provide police services to the community, but that said, the RCMP are of the opinion that a publicly funded supported housing project that is professionally managed, with rules, expectations and supervision for its tenants, is far superior to and simply not found if homeless people remain on the street or continue to occupy substandard housing, often with absentee landlords. In addition, the RCMP will participate in the Good Neighbour Committees that will be established for each supported housing project so that they are able to assist in the identification and resolution of any issue that arises in a timely and efficient manner. "We were there on day one and the RCMP will continue to be there to help ensure that these supported housing projects can be integrated successfully into neighbourhoods throughout the City," said Officer-in-Charge Supt. Norm McPhail, RCMP Nanaimo.

The RCMP are also committed to ensuring all citizens feel safe and have a sense of well being in their respective neighbourhoods. To assist in with this, there are several excellent crime prevention programs administered through our Crime Prevention Unit. "Block Watch is one of those and they are springing up all over our city, often in response to an issue in any given neighbourhood. This program brings neighbours together in a co-ordinated fashion to report suspicious activity to the police. Block Watch signs are then put up and once in place, any crime that previously existed is reduced by 50 percent. Citizens on Patrol (COPS) is another excellent program that puts more "eyes and ears" on our streets. I would encourage concerned residents to call our Community Policing Section to find out more about these programs," said Constable Gary O'Brien, media spokesperson and Block Watch Coordinator for the Nanaimo RCMP.

What will the buildings look like? The buildings will be well-built, four-storey apartment buildings with approximately 36 units each. The ground floor will contain offices for the non-profit society staff and spaces where counsellors, nurses and other service providers can work with residents. This design allows staff to monitor activity outside the building and control access to the building. A local example is Nanaimo Affordable Housing Society's supported apartment building at 153 Wallace Street.

Will the residents be helped to make changes in their lives? Absolutely; the on-site staff will work with each and every resident every day to move them towards health and sobriety. The non-profit societies operating the buildings will bring a range of services and programs that can also be accessed by residents of the buildings.

If I see someone from the building engaging in what I think are illegal activities, what should I do? There are three things you can do. First, if you see illegal activity in the community, call the RCMP. Second, neighbours of the project will be provided with a contact number for the manager of the building whom you can call to discuss your concerns. Third, you can bring it to the attention of the Good Neighbour Committee.

What is the Good Neighbour Committee? The non-profit societies responsible for the buildings will create a Good Neighbour Committee, with representatives from the society, RCMP, City and any residents of the neighbourhood who wish to participate. This group will meet monthly or as often as needed and will be tasked with responding effectively and quickly to any issues brought forward by neighbours. Meetings can be called at any time to address specific concerns that require quick attention. Good Neighbour Committees are in place for a number of service providers in Nanaimo: Salvation Army New Hope Centre; Harris House Health Centre; the Balmorals Hotel; as well as commercial operations like bars and nightclubs. There will be a Good Neighbour Committee for each of the low-barrier supportive housing projects in this initiative.

When will the apartment buildings be built? Completed, occupied buildings will be in place by the latter half of 2013.

How much will these facilities cost to build? Construction costs associated with these buildings will be in the range of $150 to $200 per square foot. They will be constructed to a very high standard for appearance and quality and will be built to LEED Gold standard.

How long will people stay in these apartments? The length of time that people stay in supportive housing varies, depending on the needs of the individuals. Supportive housing (unlike transitional housing) is permanent housing, and as such tends, to be longer term with no fixed limits on length of tenancy.

Are there examples of these types of apartment buildings in other cities? Yes. There are dozens of examples in BC alone. The following links are for some of the projects located in Victoria:

Whom can I contact with concerns?

The following organizations and agencies have participated in developing our community's response to homelessness:

Premier's Task Force on Homelessness, Mental Health & Addictions

Nanaimo Affordable Housing Society

VIHA Mental Health & Addictions

Province of British Columbia, BC Housing

Nanaimo Citizen's Advocacy

Island Crisis Care Society

HRSDC-Service Canada-Homeless Partnering Secretariat

Canadian Mental Health Association

Nanaimo Women's Resource Society

Tillicum-Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Society

United Way Central Island

Nanaimo Youth Services Association

First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo

Nanaimo & Area Resources and Services for Families

AIDS Vancouver Island

John Howard Society

Haven Society

Nanaimo 7-10 Club

Salvation Army

Ministry of Employment & Income Assistance

RCMP

Harm Reduction & Housing First Action Plan (2008)

The City of Nanaimo has commissioned a Harm Reduction and Housing First Action Plan to tackle homelessness in Nanaimo. An Open House to introduce the proposed Plan was held 2008-MAY-28 at the Bowen Park Activity Room from 4:00pm to 8:00pm. The Plan was prepared by CitySpaces Consulting Ltd., a company with offices in Victoria and Vancouver. Homelessness and attendant problems have become a visible issue for the City, primarily in the Downtown area. The Action Plan is one of a series of City initiatives to address homelessness including cooperation with the Downtown business community, neighbourhood groups and the formation of the Safer Nanaimo Working Group. The Plan has three main components:

The review of Best Practices highlights a Housing First approach to homelessness, which emphasizes moving people off the streets and into housing as quickly as possible and following up with support services. With supports and harm reduction measures, individuals are able to move towards self-reliance and independence.

The examination of the homeless situation in Nanaimo concluded that the number of homeless is estimated to range from 150 to 300 and varies by season. Nanaimo sees a large number of transient homeless because it is a Hub City – a major geographic and transportation centre. The majority of the homeless are in their mid 20s to mid 40s in age and have addiction issues. A smaller percentage experience mental illness.

The Action Plan has eight areas of action to be undertaken over a five-year period. The Plan proposes a Housing First and Harm Reduction approach designed to get homeless people into housing and provide them with the supports they need to maintain their housing and begin to get their lives back on track. Proposed harm reduction measures are to be integrated with the housing initiative to reduce the impacts of high-risk behaviour, such as drug abuse, on the individual and on the wider community.

The Action Plan proposes that 305 housing units be made available over a five-year period to accommodate individuals who are living on the streets and the population at-risk of homelessness. First, 75 units with rent supplements in existing housing will help to get people off the street and into affordable housing as quickly as possible. Second, the acquisition of existing buildings will convert 70 units into supportive housing. Third, 160 units of new housing are proposed. These new units will be located in small housing developments distributed across the City.

The City's role in the implementation of the Action Plan will primarily be coordination and monitoring, although some City-owned sites may be made available for new housing. Non-profit service providers will be responsible for the acquisition, construction and operation of housing and the provision of support services. The Vancouver Island Health Authority will cooperate through the planning and provision of certain services. It is expected that the provincial government will be the primary funding partner for the housing although some cost sharing may occur with the federal government.

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