City council wants to accelerate work on the City of Nanaimo’s affordable housing strategy and action plan to end homelessness.
Councillors, at a meeting Monday, approved the creation of a task force on health and housing. According to the terms of reference, the task force will work with the Nanaimo Homelessness Coalition and government and social agencies on aspects of the city’s previously adopted plans and strategies as they relate to issues around mental health, substance use disorders, poverty and affordable housing.
Councillors expressed concern about the scope of the task force, but Lisa Bhopalsingh, city manager of community and cultural planning, suggested the task force isn’t being asked to lead implementation of the entire affordable housing strategy.
“The idea of the task force is to really prioritize and look at immediate things to do … to really look strategically at all the overlapping issues and provide some direction,” Bhopalsingh said.
Coun. Erin Hemmens said she’s excited to be able to tackle aspects of the homelessness plan and affordable housing strategy.
“These are really big documents without real direction to our staff about what to prioritize,” she said.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong wanted to know what would be different about this task force compared to past approaches.
“To me it’s just another study,” she said. “I’ve sat on at least six in the last three years and nothing ever happens.”
Jake Rudolph, city chief administrative officer, said he’s worked extensively on the homelessness file in recent years and thinks the task force can bring the right people together.
“What’s being proposed here is a facilitation process which the key participants, I think, are willing and anxious to participate in if they have a mechanism to do it,” he said.
City staff has received positive responses from many anticipated task force members, said Bhopalsingh. A staff report suggested the group would be comprised of city councillors and representatives from Snuneymuxw First Nation, Island Health, RCMP, B.C. Housing, provincial and federal bureaucrats and non-governmental organizations.
Mayor Leonard Krog said the provincial government has the “resources, staffing and jurisdiction” to provide solutions and the federal government has to recognize the “national housing and affordability crisis,” but in the meantime, the city needs to show leadership.
“People are dying, people’s lives are not improving in many cases and some of the solutions that have been implemented have been implemented in ways that create anger and fear and frustration in neighbourhoods…” Krog said. “I am confident that the worst-case scenario, we will demonstrate that we can’t get governments at various levels to do what their job is. That would be the worst-case scenario. The best-case scenario is that we will actually make the lives of our citizens better.”
Councillors Hemmens and Don Bonner will be city council’s representatives on the task force.