Workers delivered the first wooden cabins last month to replace the tents at a tent site for people experiencing homelessness in the Cowichan Valley. (Black Press file photo)

Workers delivered the first wooden cabins last month to replace the tents at a tent site for people experiencing homelessness in the Cowichan Valley. (Black Press file photo)

City of Nanaimo looking at setting up tiny cabins for people experiencing homelessness

Council asks for staff report after learning about Cowichan’s emergency accommodation program

City council is interested in finding out whether sleeping cabins for people experiencing homelessness in Cowichan could be set up in Nanaimo, too.

Nanaimo city council, at a meeting Monday, voted unanimously to ask for a staff report on the possibility of setting up two or three pilot locations for temporary emergency accommodations, with information about potential costs, funding sources and partnerships.

Councillors Don Bonner and Erin Hemmens brought forward the motion following a recent meeting with John Horn, the City of Nanaimo’s former social planner who is now executive director of the Cowichan Housing Association. Eight-by-eight sleeping cabins were set up at two locations in Duncan last month.

Bonner said the cabins cost about $7,000 each, plus another $60,000 worth of amenities at each site.

“I view them as a transition between being homeless on the street and used to being outside all the time, to supportive housing that we’re presently building,” he said.

The cabins would have electricity hookups and there would be port-a-potties at the site. Cowichan provides meals to residents. Bonner noted that social service agencies can come and go and potentially build relationships and help connect individuals with services and more stable housing.

“I like it because it’s a finite number of people that are there, anywhere between 10 and 15 and that’s it,” Bonner said. “It’s also fenced on the outside and it’s also patrolled by security during the night so that only the people that are supposed to be there are allowed in.”

In Cowichan, the project includes federal, provincial, regional and non-governmental organization partners, but the City of Nanaimo would need to come up with its own funding model. Jake Rudolph, chief administrative officer, told councillors that the city doesn’t have the capacity to run a cabin site, with neither the staffing nor the expertise, and said staff will seek feedback from stakeholders including the health authority, B.C. Housing, service providers and RCMP.

“This thing would not work without a collection of all those entities collaborating [who are] being impacted by it and making it work,” Rudolph said.

Coun. Ian Thorpe expressed some hesitation around the motion, saying the wording suggested a commitment to implementing the program, but was reassured that no decision would be made until the staff report was presented.

“We’re just looking for information and that’s why we reference potential operators, potential funding sources, monthly operation costs,” said Hemmens. “We’re not looking for a set program, we’re looking for if we were to explore this, these are options in front of us. Our intention is not to lock us into anything.”

Bonner said the cabins are a little outside of the recommendations of the city’s health and housing task force, but said while those recommendations look at higher-level strategies and social service delivery, cabins are something that can be done “sooner than later.”

“Ideally we wouldn’t need them, we’d have enough housing, but in the event that we don’t, which is going to be for quite some time, I think these are a good fit,” he said.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo’s health and housing task force presents action plan to address homelessness

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