Nanaimo's homelessness crisis hitting more than street-entrenched

By Ian Holmes
May 23, 2018 - 5:47pm

Officials say people holding down jobs are among those becoming homeless in NanaimoUnited Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island

NANAIMO — A disturbing trend is emerging, with an entirely new group of people facing homelessness in the Harbour City.

315 people were considered in the absolute homeless category during the April 19 Point-In-Time homeless census in Nanaimo. Most of about 20 people who became homeless in the last four months recently lost their job, according to census coordinator Andrew Thornton.

Signy Madden, United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island executive director told NanaimoNewsNOW the street entrenched aren't the only ones squeezed by surging housing prices and dwindling availability.

“I've got a staff person who's looking for housing and can't afford it and she's got a job,” Madden said. “We're talking about folks who have never been homeless and they could be your employee.”

She said the number of 315 homeless may shock the general public, but it comes as no surprise to service providers and funders.

“I'm saddened,” Madden said.

The 2018 number represents a stark increase from the 174 people counted as being homeless during a similar survey in 2016.

Madden said the count is not a perfect science and it's believed about 400 people in Nanaimo are actually in the category of absolute homeless.

Madden is calling for an “upstream” approach in coordination with all levels of government to help create affordable housing for the working class in addition to the street entrenched.

It's vital to prevent the transition to chronically homeless, where addiction and mental health issues often take an alarmingly strong hold, Madden said.

City of Nanaimo social planner John Horn said there has been a clear shift in terms of who's homeless or on the verge of living on the street.

“There's a whole bunch of folks going to work everyday and doing the things that normally would result in a comfortable, happy, housed life and those folks are now experiencing stress and difficulty in achieving housing,” Horn said.

He said many people in Nanaimo who have self-managed their housing needs will be appealing to all levels of government for help if affordability isn't addressed.

“That's a place we're coming to very rapidly.”

Horn said senior levels of government, particularly the province, need to play a critical role in creating affordable housing to assist those a missed paycheque away from homelessness.

“If we don't address that group it will put tremendous pressure on our low-price rental stock...The pressure's on.”

Horn expected the City's affordable housing strategy will be presented to Council this fall.

RCMP Cpl. Dave LaBerge told NanaimoNewsNOW there's not only a dramatic increase in the number of homeless in Nanaimo, but their situations are more dire.

“There's more of a scarcity of resources,” LaBerge said. “We see people just generally hopeless because there's so much more competition for the limited amount of housing support.”

The survey showed most of the homeless are longtime Nanaimo residents who have not had a roof over their heard for years.

A tent city recently formed on Nanaimo's vacant south downtown waterfront area is home to roughly 40 tents.


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