Nanaimo councillors are prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to deal with the numerous health, safety and social issues that plague downtown.
During the city’s finance and audit committee meeting on Wednesday, councillors unanimously approved spending $350,465 on numerous staff recommendations to deal with the ongoing issues downtown.
The recommendations councillors approved include $100,000 annually to fund a daytime drop-in resource centre, providing an additional $30,000 in funding toward a shower facility program for homeless people, acquiring three portable toilets to be used downtown at a cost of $8,265, providing $45,000 to support their housing first initiative, spending $74,700 to continue the city’s downtown daytime security services with extended morning and nighttime hours, and providing $45,000 for an urban cleanup initiative so it can continue to operate until the end of the year.
Councillors also agreed to provide $45,000 in funding to the city’s cold weather homeless shelter at the First Unitarian Fellowship on Townsite Road and have staff prepare a letter to the provincial government requesting additional funding to keep the shelter open longer. They also agreed to purchase more needle disposal boxes for $2,500 and place more garbage cans throughout the city.
Should councillors approve the recommendations during a council meeting, approximately $160,465 of the $350,465 of the recommendations will be funded through taxation while the remaining $90,000 will come from the city’s housing legacy reserve fund.
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A staff report, which had been ordered by councillors last December, had recommended that councillors spend $250,465 and include it in the 2018 budget. However, during the meeting, councillors agreed to include $100,000 in annual funding to a drop-in centre for the homeless as part of this year’s budget. It’s unclear, however, whether that money will come from taxation or other sources.
During the meeting, John Horn, the city’s social planner and author of the staff report, told councillors that one of the challenges for homeless individuals is that there are so few rental units available in Nanaimo these days.
“There is a fierce competition for the units that do exist,” he said.
Coun. Gord Fuller said told councillors that he was pleased with staff’s recommendations but suggested that staff include the $100,000 for the drop-in centre in this year’s budget as well as send a letter to the province regarding the First Unitarian Fellowship’s shelter. He said once the shelter stops operating at the end of the month, there will be even more people spending the night on the street in Nanaimo and that extending its operating hours is warranted.
“The need has become so great,” Fuller said.
During the discussion at the meeting, Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said it appeared to him that only one location would be considered for the drop-in centre. He said staff should examine multiple locations for a centre and then come back to council with a report about each site and then hold public consultation sessions.
“I want us to have choices,” he said.
However, Coun. Sheryl Armstrong was leery of the idea of holding public consultation prior to councillors agreeing on a site.
“I don’t want to alarm communities, six different communities when the sites might not be agreeable to council,” she said.
In the end, councillors agreed that staff will consider multiple locations and report back to council before making any concrete decisions on the drop-in centre.