Public safety concerns front and centre as Council approves showers for homeless

By Dominic Abassi
January 23, 2018 - 6:15pm

A picture of a needle jammed into a tree shared by a resident near the Unitarian shelter.Catherine Ann/Facebook

Nanaimo Council approved funding to provide public showers for the homeless, however much of the debate on the topic focused on broader safety concerns in the community.

On Monday night, Council approved $10,000 for a three month trial of opening the showers at Caledonia Park for homeless people to use in the mornings, five days a week.

A delegation from a concerned parent drove much of the discussion.

Alison Evans, a mother of two children attending Ecole Pauline Haarer told Council the school and its playground have been an increasingly popular "hot route" for homeless people and drug users. She raised concerns about the issue worsening as people are directed from the downtown area towards Caledonia Park, which would take foot traffic right through the school and nearby Comox Park.

Evans said her 9-year-old daughter is traumatized after recently suffering what's believed to be a prick from an improperly discarded needle.

"My daughter will now have blood testing for HIV and hepatitis over the next four months as a precaution, which is highly unfair and downright wrong."

Staff at the school are "overwhelmed" cleaning up everything from vomit to feces to drug paraphernalia on a daily basis, Evans said, and she's "concerned with the lack of efforts put forth by the City to keep our children safe.

"There are consequences to inaction. I do feel the showers, along with many other initiatives to support the homeless are important to this community...I only ask as City Council members you think of a way to do so and also keep our children from being involved," Evans said.

Councillors generally agreed with Evans' comments and vowed to take up the issue at the committee level.

"I have never seen anything this bad," coun. Gord Fuller said, speaking of the need to educate homeless and drug users on proper needle disposal and their impact on the community at large.

Staff requested a budget of $40,000 to run the showers for one year. The service, which began on a trial basis last week, costs $162 per day and is operated by staff from the nearby seasonal homeless shelter at First Unitarian Church.

City staff said during the first five days the shower at Caledonia Park was open five showers were taken.

However, staff told Council they would either have to raise taxes to fund the service or spend nearly half of their annual $100,000 Council contingency fund.

In the end, Council elected to spend $10,000 on three months and have staff work on including the shower initiative in a larger budget alongside other social wellness initiatives already being discussed.

 

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On Twitter: @domabassi

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