Reported illegal drug use in downtown Nanaimo last year. (Photo submitted)

City of Nanaimo decides not to fund addiction treatment beds for now

Motion referred to task force on health and housing

City council decided it isn’t prepared to spend $70,000 to fund five addiction treatment beds right now.

At a meeting Monday, City of Nanaimo councillors voted unanimously to refer to the committee level a motion to support six months’ treatment at five available beds at the John Howard Society’s Vancouver Island Therapeutic Community. The motion will now be discussed at the city’s task force on health and housing.

Coun. Don Bonner, a member of the task force, made Monday’s motion based on a conversation around the task force table.

“I saw an opportunity to help five people, and not only help five people, but to help in our community by getting five people into addiction treatment for what I thought was a very minimal cost,” he said.

However, other members of council felt that sort of decision should follow a city process, and Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said she thought an RFP would be necessary.

“I’m not going to support it regardless, because I believe this is a download from the provincial government and our property tax dollars should not be utilized for health,” she said.

Mayor Leonard Krog agreed that addictions treatment falls under provincial jurisdiction. He said the state of mental health and addictions and homelessness are a “human calamity” affecting every community, and said it doesn’t appear that anything is improving.

“The level of addiction that we see on our streets, the number of people with mental health issues who are clearly not receiving treatment, who don’t have a place to live, some of whom should be institutionalized, continues, I think, to be a national embarrassment,” Krog said. “It should prick the conscience of every right-thinking Canadian and I believe it does.”

Coun. Zeni Maartman, who seconded Bonner’s motion, said sometimes the city needs to not only think outside the box, but act outside the box.

“I know that it’s a slippery slope when the city council starts to think about picking up provincial work, but we are in desperate times right now and five addicts getting treatment helps,” she said.

RELATED: City of Nanaimo creates new task force on homelessness

Coun. Tyler Brown suggested that problems related to mental health and addictions and homelessness will take solutions from all levels of government.

“I don’t want to get too hung up on, is it downloading, is it not downloading,” he said. “At the end of the day, we all share this responsibility as those that are elected to represent our communities.”

Brown added that he looks forward to any recommendations that come from the task force on health and housing that help those on the streets and the neighbourhoods that are most impacted.

Krog said members of council hear every day from citizens who express concerns – some legitimate, some fear-based, he said – that they have to avoid going to certain parks, or doing business in certain areas of the city.

“I think it’s fair to say that all members of council are becoming more and more frustrated with the situation,” the mayor said.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Residents deserve to have their downtown back

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