NANAIMO — The decision to reject the chosen location of a supportive housing project in Nanaimo's south end was met with applause Monday night.
The motion to work with BC Housing and find a site other than Cranberry Ave. in Chase River passed 7-2 after nearly 50 minutes of debate and several delegations. The 44-unit supportive modular housing initiative would be funded entirely by the province, thanks to a $7 million investment.
“I will always support projects that help vulnerable people,” concerned Chase River resident Linda Janes told Council. “However, I'm only in favour of projects like this when they're well thought out and take into consideration the most vulnerable population in our community and that is our children.”
Her major concern, and the concern of all those who spoke, was the location of the project on the same block as Chase River Elementary School and the Boys and Girls Club.
“This is the closest to an elementary school that this type of housing has been proposed,” Chase River PAC chair Christina Scott said.
She hypothesized the supportive housing would draw “undesirables” to the community who would be “situated far too close to our most innocent and vulnerable populations and perhaps even begin using our school as a meeting point after hours.
"With the current opioid crisis, a very realistic risk is that a child may be witness to someone overdosing, or worse, that they see a dead body on their walk to school. This is putting our children's mental health at risk."
Both Scott and Janes told Council there's no services in Chase River to help tenants at the site, such as transit and access to mental health and addictions support.
Coun. Ian Thorpe agreed and admitted the project was rushed since the province and BC Housing only came to the City several months before.
“We were under a timeline from the provincial government to accept their funding with a site that was basically ready to go. Staff reported back to us that there are virtually no other sites, either City or privately-owned, which are ready to go,” he said.
Coun. Diane Brennan said in her experience, introducing anti-poverty supports into a community can be a controversial and sometimes difficult process, but one which results in minimal negative impacts on the community.
“I have found once the housing has been built and residents are there, it's a much smoother ride than anyone anticipated. And that's not without a lot of work on behalf of the neighbourhood themselves with City staff and the organization that runs the housing.”
Brennan said the nearly $7 million in provincial funding was a windfall the City couldn't ignore.
“Every community in B.C. has asked government to speed up their response, speed up our ability to build housing for homeless people. And that's what this does. We have an offer here and we have an opportunity to alleviate suffering and misery for people."
She and coun. Gord Fuller were the only two opposed to the motion of looking at alternatives outside of Chase River.
Coun. Fuller said though there were concerns about the site and how quickly the province directed it be selected, it was important to have supportive housing in south Nanaimo.
“We want services and housing spread throughout the community. Poverty is not just in the downtown. Homelessness exists out in Chase River already. Yes this was rushed, hence the name Rapid Response to Homelessness.”
Mayor Bill McKay said several key details were misrepresented to Council in the rush, saying he and many other councillors were told it was second-step housing for those no longer at a high risk for homelessness.
“If BC Housing doesn't abandon us tomorrow, by saying 'If they're not ready there's three other communities that could use this cash,' if they don't abandon us, we need (the community's) help.”
He called upon all the organizations in Chase River to assist introducing the housing to the neighbourhood and making sure it was successful.
When asked if a rejection of the Chase River site would be the end of the initiative in Nanaimo, BC Housing told NanaimoNewsNOW “If the City of Nanaimo provides an alternative site instead, BC Housing will work with the City to develop the new location.”
A City staff report, linked here, showed of the properties already owned by the City and fit for the initiative, only the lot on Cranberry Ave. would suffice.
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