Nanaimo city council, at a meeting Monday, voted to write a letter to the province expressing interest in being a site for a navigation centre for people experiencing homelessness. (News Bulletin file photo)

City of Nanaimo expresses interest in supportive shelter for people experiencing homelessness

Provincial government looking for Vancouver Island location for 60-bed navigation centre

Nanaimo city council doesn’t want to miss a chance to be considered for $4.5 million in funding for a supportive shelter for those experiencing homelessness.

Council, at a meeting Monday, voted 7-2 to write a letter to the province expressing interest in being a site for a navigation centre.

B.C. Housing announced last month a project to launch one such centre in Vancouver, and said it wants another one on Vancouver Island. A City of Nanaimo staff report says the provincial government would proved $1.5 million per year for three years to lease space and fund up to 60 shelter beds including arranging health supports.

“It is anticipated that with a strong referral process and staffing model, the impact of the centre will be more comparable with that of a supportive housing development or [a] bridge-to-housing shelter model rather than a more typical overnight homeless shelter,” noted the report.

Coun. Don Bonner said the difference between a navigation centre and an overnight shelter is the integrated health supports and he said he’s convinced B.C. Housing and Island Health would want a navigation centre to be successful.

Coun. Zeni Maartman also spoke in favour, saying it’s an opportunity for the city to try to help 60 hard-to-house people.

“I think of some of the people that I see every day pushing their shopping cars, not cohesive, have major, major problems and this may be one step towards that solution to which we get countless e-mails and phone calls from people who are afraid and tired of our city,” she said.

Coun. Tyler Brown said he’s hopeful Nanaimo will be selected to host a navigation centre, even though he knows it would be a challenge to site such a facility.

“I think our community is in great need and we can’t always say that we want resources and then if they come to us, say, actually, we don’t want those ones,” he said.

The city staff report noted that there is need for additional shelter space and wraparound supports in Nanaimo and pointed to this past winter’s count of people experiencing homelessness which added up to 425 people, a 25 per cent increase from two years prior. The report noted that most of the permanent supportive housing in the works will replace existing temporary supportive housing.

READ ALSO: Count in Nanaimo indicates 25 per cent increase in homelessness

The options listed in the staff report were to write to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to express an interest in hosting a navigation centre, refer the idea to the health and housing task force, or take no action. Mayor Leonard Krog suggested it’s worthwhile to write to the ministry and further the conversation.

“If properly run, the worst-case scenario as I see it – depending on location, which will be decided a long ways down the road – [is the navigation centre] may in fact lead to a detriment to the neighbourhood in which it’s located, and we’ll face that problem if and when it comes,” he said.

The two votes in opposition came from councillors Sheryl Armstrong and Ian Thorpe. Armstrong said she thinks the navigation centre would resemble temporary supportive housing and the “exact same thing” would happen, with the centre attracting drug activity.

Thorpe said he senses that the city has a sort of “supportive housing fatigue” right now.

“We’ve got enough challenges facing us to get the proposed buildings up and running and satisfying the concerns of the neighbourhoods where they will be located,” he said.

The staff report notes that the city would not be asked to contribute financially to the navigation centre, but suggested that providing a space or contributing to capital improvements to a space would be seen as a sign of commitment to making the project work.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo taking inventory of health, housing, homelessness services

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