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Nanaimo city council approves lease for navigation centre housing

B.C. Housing planning 60 units of housing for people currently sleeping rough
The area of 1030 Old Victoria Rd. that will be leased to B.C. Housing for a 60-unit navigation centre for people experiencing homelessness.

Nanaimo city council has approved issuing a lease on a south-end property to B.C. Housing so that navigation centre housing can be built there.

The provincial government announced last month that it had identified 1030 Old Victoria Rd. as the site for a long-promised navigation centre, and at a meeting Monday, July 8, city council voted to issue a three-year lease to B.C. Housing with options for renewals.

The 60-unit modular housing complex will be temporary housing, not a shelter, as each unit will have a locking door and space for personal belongings. The Vancouver Island Mental Health Society will operate the facility with 24-hour staffing.

A staff report noted that the navigation centre project is linked to a recently signed memorandum of understanding between the province and city to partner to try to house people living in encampments.

"One of the city's commitments within the … MOU is to identify appropriate and feasible land for … shelter and to expedite land-use decisions necessary for the provision of shelter and housing," noted a city staff report.

Coun. Tyler Brown amended staff's recommended motion so that the lease will be contingent on a  good neighbour agreement and the establishment of a community advisory committee, and the amendment passed 8-1. Only Mayor Leonard Krog opposed the amendment, noting that he personally signed the MOU and intends to keep up his end of the agreement and put a level of trust in B.C. Housing.

On the subject of neighbourhood opposition to a navigation centre, Krog brought up the parable of the good Samaritan and said "we have passed by the injured soul on the side of the road far too often" and have made excuses for not wanting social housing nearby or not wanting to help people who have made bad decisions or are somehow unworthy.

"Probably there's not a neighbourhood in this community that would welcome any kind of facility to deal with the poor souls who now night after night sleep in our streets," Krog said. "I don't say that as a criticism, it's just an accepted bit of cynicism."

Coun. Ben Geselbracht said he's "acutely" aware of the need to spread out social housing in the city.

"We are working on that. You can't simply drop a spot right in the middle of somewhere where there's no services around," he said. "You have to be very methodical about where you place these facilities and slowly build out your system."

Coun. Paul Manly, who was executive director of the Unitarian Shelter for two years, suggested that sort of facility can be a responsible neighbour. He added that the City of Nanaimo is in a "tough position that we cannot really say no to B.C. Housing" because there is such need for housing for people experiencing homelessness.

"Our downtown core is our tourist district and we need to make sure that it is not our homeless district and that people aren't living on our streets in our downtown core," Manly said. "So we have to find places for them to be."

Coun. Janice Perrino said the problem has been left too long and "our beautiful city is sitting here with a mess" and if the city doesn't do anything, then nothing will change.

"If we can invite those that are ready to be housed into a facility like this and help them to make that step up, we can move them to the different facilities that we do have – on Prideaux, on Nicol – and help them get their lives back," she said. "If we do nothing, they're going to stay where they are and the next place, for so many of them, is death."

The only councillor to oppose the main motion to approve issuing the lease was Coun. Sheryl Armstrong. She said the city has greater need for recovery beds, lamented that nothing is being done for people who are experiencing homelessness because of poverty, worried that the site is too close to a centre for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and suggested 60 units of social housing is double the appropriate capacity.

The previous city council committed in 2022 to contribute up to $750,000 to establish a navigation centre, an amount that is already budgeted in the 2024-28 financial plan to come out of reserves. The city staff report noted that although the Old Victoria Road property is zoned high tech industrial, the province intends to establish the navigation centre using "statutory immunity," bypassing municipal approval.

About the Author: Greg Sakaki

I have been in the community newspaper business for two decades, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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