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Homeless week raises awareness

It’s Homelessness Action Week in B.C. (Oct. 7-13) and while nothing specific is planned in Nanaimo to mark the occasion, advocates say the week is important for raising awareness about the issue.

John Horn, the city’s social planner, said in previous years, the Nanaimo Working Group on Homelessness has commemorated the week by organizing events such as bringing a number of services for the homeless into Maffeo Sutton Park or doing a homeless count, but this year the group has taken a break.

With all of the recent news coverage and community dialogue about the city’s Housing First and Harm Reduction Plan and plans for building supportive housing units, the group feels that residents are well aware of the issue, he said.

“There are probably not many in the community who aren’t aware of the issue,” said Horn.

While the working group is not doing anything for the week and decided to focus on its annual Thanksgiving dinner last weekend, Homelessness Action Week signals to communities that homelessness is a common problem.

“We’re all in this together as Canadians and no community is free of homelessness issues,” said Horn.

Gord Fuller, chairman of the Nanaimo 7-10 Club Society, said the week is about educating people about the benefits of programs that help combat homelessness.

“The more people become aware, the better able they are to recognize that this is a problem we need to work towards eliminating,” he said. “It’s a huge problem not just in B.C. but across Canada and the more people know about it, and the steps being taken to alleviate it, the better.”

Various groups in the city are working hard on the issue and the city’s Housing First and Harm Reduction Plan aims to cut back on the number of chronically homeless individuals to next to nothing once all supportive housing facilities are built, said Fuller.

The 36-unit supportive housing project on Wesley Street is scheduled to open shortly and he estimates that about half of the roughly 35 chronically homeless people in Nanaimo will be housed here, with the remainder of the occupants coming from sub-standard living situations.

Housing highlights for Nanaimo include the New Hope Centre, which opened in 2007 to provide transitional housing for the homeless or those at risk of being homeless, and Salish Lelum, 18 supportive apartments for Aboriginal youth and elders that opened in 2011.

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