The United Way is doing its part to make sure affordable housing and homelessness are central issues this election campaign.
The United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island hosted an all-candidates’ meeting centred on housing and homelessness on Thursday evening at the Beban Park social centre. The event was more of a meet-and-greet rather than a debate, with the 26 participating candidates allotted only a brief statement on stage.
Signy Madden, executive director of United Way CNVI, said the city’s 400-plus homeless and Discontent City downtown make affordable housing and homelessness top of mind for citizens.
She said Nanaimo’s Homelessness Coalition is in agreement that the municipality needs to provide or buy land and zone it and trigger available provincial and federal funding.
“We have plans,” she said. “The coalition has plans, the United way has plans to address affordable housing and housing and homelessness; the city has endorsed both plans. We need to make sure that candidates get elected who are going to be part of the solution.”
Peter Kent, city council candidate, said it’s proven that shelter and housing for people experiencing homelessness reduces policing costs, healthcare costs and recidivism in the justice system.
“That is why the province and the feds have stepped up with large pots of funding for addiction services and for housing,” he said. “So as a new council, we need to have our resources ready, land, relationships within the community and community partners aligned. It takes compassion, community and political will to get the housing situation solved.”
Council candidate Jeet Manhas suggested costs to provide housing are one-fifth what they would be once someone ends up on the streets. The former Nanaimo city councillor said he has a proven track record on the file with past council’s work to approve supportive housing and legalize secondary suites.
“We can ease affordability by increasing density, but we have to [do so] without compromising the integrity of the plans of the neighbourhood,” he said.
Council candidate Zeni Maartman said although homelessness has crime and addiction elements, she stressed that there are seniors, working poor and those on disability who can’t afford to rent.
“It is tent city that brought this point home and in our face that we are like all the other cities across North America struggling with the growing disparity between rich and the poor,” she said. “We all know that yes, it’s the responsibility of the senior governments, but at this point in time, this is our responsibility.”
Council candidate Trent Whaley said he’s been poor in Nanaimo and has had to choose between rent and food while living paycheque to paycheque. He favours a variety of housing solutions and co-operation with other levels of government and said he would not turn down funding for social housing.
“I will strongly advocate for city support for societies running shelters to survive the night, transition housing to stabilize and rebuild lives, subsidized housing and co-operatives…” he said. “Nanaimo can do better at preventing our neighbours from falling into homelessness and help lift up those who have already fallen.”
The United Way surveyed candidates about affordable housing and homelessness and posted answers at this link. Madden said she isn’t sure yet if the Nanaimo Homelessness Coalition will endorse candidates.
Candidates who participated in Thursday’s meeting included: Don Hubbard, Leonard Krog, Guy Beaulieu, Don Bonner, Tyler Brown, Brunie Brunie, Coun. Gord Fuller, Ben Geselbracht, Pelé Gouda, Erin Hemmens, Peter Kent, Rae Kornberger, Zeni Maartman, Lloyd MacIlquham, Jeet Manhas, Bill Manners, Darcy Olsen, Wendy Pratt, Michael Ribicic, Noah Routley, Rick Smith, Fred Statham, Balakrishna (Viraat) Thammanna, Jim Turley, Peter Urquhart and Trent Whaley.
Several other candidates participated in only the meet-and-greet portion of the event.
Upcoming voter information events:
Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce/Our Nanaimo all-candidates’ fair, Oct. 9, 6-7:45 p.m., Vancouver Island Conference Centre.
Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce/Our Nanaimo mayoral candidates’ debate, Oct. 9, 8-9 p.m., Vancouver Island Conference Centre.
Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce/Our Nanaimo council candidates’ forum, Oct. 15, 6-9 p.m., Vancouver Island Conference Centre.