NANAIMO — Community concerns about new supportive housing coming to Chase River was heard loud and clear at a sometimes testy open house about the project.
The Boys and Girls Club in Chase River was packed and a lengthy line snaked outside the building Wednesday night for the open house, scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m.
Everyone NanaimoNewsNOW talked to said they had serious concerns about the development, which will see 44 units of supportive housing built in the same block as the Boys and Girls Club and also Chase River Elementary.
“It's about child safety,” Chase River resident Heather said while waiting to get in. “With needles, with feces, who's going to clean it up, who's going to be responsible for those things. You have people with mental health problems, if they're out on the street what about our children's safety?”
The new housing will be operated by Pacifica Housing, who also run the similar Uplands Walk facility in north Nanaimo. Pacifica executive director Dean Fortin previously told NanaimoNewsNOW the site will provide supports for the homeless and those at risk of being homeless and will help them reintegrate with society. He said the current outcry reminded him of earlier concerns about Uplands Walk, where he says many of the concerns quickly went away.
Heather said she read studies presented by Pacifica Housing and also talked to neighbours of the north Nanaimo project and said she's not convinced it's as harmless as Pacifica makes it seem.
“It's kind of laughable, on their study they say housing has increased in that area. Well, we all know that all housing has increased in Nanaimo. So you can't use that study.”
Alia Johnston, 16-years-old who lives in Chase River, said the comparison with Uplands Walk doesn't calm her nerves or reduce her concerns.
“They're comparing it to other places that have high security levels, which is really concerning because we don't have security at the Boys and Girls Club, we don't have security at Chase River Elementary. That's going to have a huge impact.”
Johnston said the biggest issues which compelled her to visit the open house were drugs, alcohol, aggression and crime.
“What happens if there's more drug users and dealers coming to the area and they find their way to the playground because it could be a safer place to use? Then there's needles on the playground or people who shouldn't be on school grounds and then the school has to go into lockdown. How's that going to affect learning?”
As a youth who often visits the Southgate Tim Hortons and is out at night with her friends, Johnston said she was now more concerned about her own physical safety.
After attending the open house, talking to mayor Bill McKay and listening to what City staff said, Johnston said none of her concerns were answered or addressed.
Community leader Linda Janes, who runs a child-care facility in the neighbourhood, said announcing the supportive housing site and then doing consultation with the community “absolutely” felt like the City of Nanaimo finding it easier to ask for forgiveness than ask permission.
Janes accused City staff of being secretive about the project and trying to avoid a community uproar.
“If that was a skate park, a library, a community centre, a senior home, affordable housing, they would be all over it, patting their backs, (saying) 'Look at what we're doing for your community.' But when it's something undesirable...it's just snuck in with no consultation.”
Janes echoed the sentiment expressed by many at the open house about feeling bounced around between the various speakers and representatives for the project.
“Nobody knows what's up.”
In a statement, the City of Nanaimo said this project is designed to address the urgent need for housing and individual supports in the City for those who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness. "As part of this partnership, BC Housing provides the building and operating funding, Pacifica is the operator and the City provides the land for the project. The City has agreed to provide the site at 1425 Cranberry Ave. for this housing."
The City said Pacifica Housing will be responsible for cleaning and managing the site, in case any resident concerns about needles do happen.
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