Residents crowd the Chase River Boys and Girls Club on Wednesday night for an open house regarding the proposed supportive housing complex for Cranberry Road. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

Chase River residents oppose supportive housing proposal

Residents packed the Chase River Boys and Girls Club on Wednesday night for an open house

A plan to stack social housing in south Nanaimo will face opposition from the neighbourhood.

Residents packed the Chase River Boys and Girls Club on Wednesday night for an open house regarding a 44-unit supportive modular-housing project proposed for Cranberry Road.

The City of Nanaimo and partners B.C. Housing and Pacifica Housing were represented at the meeting and faced not only questions from residents, but also angry cries and tearful ones.

Linda Janes, manager of the Chase River Boys and Girls Club, said she wasn’t satisfied with what she heard at Wednesday’s open house. She said she’s concerned that supportive housing on the block will bring more transient people, garbage, needles and condoms and speculated it will only be a matter of time before there’s an overdose in the daycare’s parking lot.

“From a child carer’s perspective, they’ve just put 114 kids at risk and they have given us no tools, no resources, no information, no planning to make sure we have the right things in place,” she said.

Aside from the children in her club, she said the building is also used at night by more than 70 members of Girl Guides of Canada and another 30 who attend a girls’ youth group.

Area resident Dave Skarbo has a daughter who attends the daycare and another who attends the youth group and said he’s terrified to think of the risks that could come with social housing close by.

“Right now, my older daughter can walk from Cinnabar down to the co-op and spend her allowance and get a slurpee and do what kids do,” he said. “There’s no way in hell I would let her walk past this place with this kind of stuff going on. It’s scary.”

Dean Fortin, executive director of Pacifica, which would operate the facility, said he thinks the project can work in Chase River and said all Pacifica’s projects run “extremely successfully.”

He said based on the experiences elsewhere, 30-40 per cent of tenants will stabilize and move on, 40 per cent will remain in supportive housing and the rest will require higher levels of assistance or attention. He said neighbourhood crime and safety concerns diminish once the supportive housing is in operation.

“It’s about making sure that we have the right staffing levels, which we have, and it’s about making sure that the effort is to integrate people into the communities,” Fortin said. “Our experience has been that very quickly, people don’t even know the facility is in the neighbourhood.”

Mayor Bill McKay said staff recommended the Chase River location for a few reasons, one being that it’s a part of town that didn’t already have supportive housing.

“We’ve learned that you need to spread social housing throughout the community, otherwise you ghettoize those people and you don’t want to do that…” the mayor said. “I think it’s a good site for what’s being proposed, which is second-stage housing. But let’s continue to have those conversations.”

He said city council will ultimately make the decision, so it will be up to members of council to be informed about the project, the potential clients and the neighbourhood and its wishes.

“We’ve got a lot of proof around the community about how well these work and we have to understand that there are people that need a helping hand,” McKay said.

Some Chase River residents said they saw the value of social housing, but didn’t think the proposed location was right. Some worried that crime, already increasing, will become worse. Janes said the project will bring “people we don’t want” and will bring drug addiction closer.

“It’s all over Nanaimo,” she said. “So why drop it in the front doorstep of an elementary school and a daycare? Why do that?”

According to a press release from the province, construction on the project could begin in the spring. The mayor doesn’t know yet when the project will come to the city council table, but said “it will be soon.”

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