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City of Nanaimo working on options for drop-in centre for homeless people

Staff reports back to councillors on project progress
Victoria’s Our Place has indicated an interest in partnering with the City of Nanaimo on operating a drop-in resource centre for people experiencing homelessness. BLACK PRESS file photo

With hundreds of people experiencing homelessness in Nanaimo, the city is looking at different options around a daytime drop-in centre.

The City of Nanaimo has identified a potential operator as it looks to fulfill a previously announced initiative to open a drop-in centre with services for people experiencing homelessness. City staff updated councillors on the project at a special committee of the whole meeting Monday.

It was Nanaimo’s previous city council that approved an annual allocation of $100,000 for a drop-in centre, but several current councillors showed interest in the idea.

“This is something that seems to be a very important amenity if you’re homeless,” said Coun. Ben Geselbracht. “Just to get laundry, to different medical services, to somewhere to charge your phone. If you hope to kind of take the next steps, this is an important conduit to facilitate that.”

City social planner John Horn said other services at a drop-in centre could be counselling and advocacy supports, housing placement programs, pre-employment skills training, meals and snacks and even social and recreational programming.

Coun. Zeni Maartman said she was excited about playing a part in bringing the service back to the city – drop-in centres existed at two downtown locations between 2005-07, according to a staff report.

“I’m really enthused that this is still on the books,” added Coun. Ian Thorpe. “I support in general the idea of a drop-in centre, but as Coun. Maartman said, we want to do it right.”

Mayor Leonard Krog suggested proceeding cautiously.

“I hope we’re going to take the approach my mother taught me about something I really, really, really wanted – go back and wait a week and see if you still really, really want it,” Krog said.

City staff have been working with Our Place Society, which runs a drop-in centre in Victoria. Our Place has indicated to the City of Nanaimo that it could operate a centre two hours a day, five days a week for $100,000 a year, and could operate five hours a day, seven days a week for about $360,000. Estimates don’t include any lease costs. Horn said Our Place has suggested starting with limited hours and expanding from there.

“They’re interested in coming to Nanaimo but they understand this needs to be something that works for us. It has to be the best option from the perspective of all the service providers in the community and of course at council’s direction,” said Karin Kronstal, city social planner.

Horn said the Nanaimo Homelessness Coalition considers a drop-in centre “a human dignity piece” and said if the city is the driver behind such a project, it’s to solve a problem.

“We’re the most motivated to provide a place for people to go during the day and that’s for the purpose to reduce the amount of folks on our streets, to manage some of that public disorder,” Horn said. “The partners that we’re working with on this have a motivation to provide wellness and health services. It may not look like a drop-in resource centre to them.”

City manager of community safety Dave LaBerge told councillors earlier in the meeting that Nanaimo’s homeless population was counted at 335 last year and was estimated at around 500 people when Discontent City existed on the waterfront.

A staff report indicated that councillors will be provided with another update when potential drop-in centre site locations are identified.

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