The city says an action plan is in place around addressing some of the concerns at temporary supportive housing sites in Nanaimo.
The topic again came to the council table at a committee of the whole meeting Monday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, as a group called Park Watch asked for city support in crime prevention efforts at Beban Park.
“We really hope that the city recognizes the urgency…” said Angela Wood, Park Watch member. “It’s too much for our organizations to take on by ourselves and we would really like to see the city put forth and pull together the resources and take them and fix up the park now and not 12 months from now.”
Michelle Corfield, founder of the Stevie Smith Bike Park, said she will cancel a planned Red Bull-sponsored race at the venue “if we do not see some increased support, because we are pulling needles out of the banks.”
Mike Smith, president of the Nanaimo BMX Association, said his group has seen increased theft and vandalism, has been filing RCMP reports approximately once a week, and mentioned an instance of someone trying to take away a bike from a nine-year old.
City chief administrative officer Jake Rudoph said the city has asked its parks department to take a proactive role and a staff committee is being reconvened to that effect, and added that the city has also begun a process toward clarifying parks bylaws, including addressing night-time uses. Parks and rec has been working with Park Watch, has received a crime prevention safety audit and recommendations from that group, and has communicated on the progress and feasibility of recommendations.
Rudolph suggested he wished to get across to concerned citizens that there “there is an action plan” as the City of Nanaimo and its various departments are working with agencies and community members on different strategies at both temporary supportive housing sites.
Rudolph said some of the problems residents are pointing out in the Terminal Avenue and Labieux Road areas existed around city parks in the past, and then around tent city in 2018.
“The unfortunate story is that this is a recurring and systemic issue regardless of the location,” he said. “The only way out of this for us is to have a very solid homelessness and housing strategy that all stakeholders are buying into and we’re working collectively to solve the problem, otherwise we’re just moving it from one location to another.”
He said the city has been meeting with supportive housing operators, is in continual communication with B.C. Housing, and he said that agency is viewing with interest the discussion at Nanaimo city council meetings. He said B.C. Housing is also working with the supportive housing operators on security improvements at the sites, and is leading community advisory committees in both neighbourhoods.
Island Health is at the supportive housing sites up to five days a week, Rudolph said.
The CAO anticipates council discussion in February around long-term strategies including tying in the city’s action plan to end homelessness and affordable housing strategy.
Rudolph said RCMP is policing with bike squads, general duty and plain-clothes officers, has conducted training with both operators and has conducted security assessments at both sites.
“I’ve asked the police department this in the past, if they would prefer a dispersed or a concentrated model of going to calls and their answer is they’d prefer a concentrated model because it’s easier to police,” the CAO said. “So perhaps that, again, isn’t the right answer, but it is the true answer.”
Supt. Cameron Miller, commanding officer at the Nanaimo RCMP detachment, said the “No. 1 mission” for police is to reduce crime and try to ensure safe homes and safe communities.
“We’re more than happy to work with our partners, with parks and rec and with the community to make that happen,” he said.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said she knows that police are frustrated to be arresting the same people again and again.
“They go to jail and then they’re out the next day. It’s a revolving cycle,” she said. “So that’s where I think a lot of this has to get put back to where I believe it belongs with, is the courts.”
Violet Hayes, executive director of the Island Crisis Care Society, operator of the Newcastle Place supportive housing on Terminal Avenue, outlined some of the measures that are being taken there. The fence height was recently increased and later this week the operator plans to further restrict site access with a requirement that people pass through a building to enter or exit the property.
She stressed that the site was opened in a response to a crisis.
“We were … doing the best we could with the situation as it was. It definitely wasn’t ready,” said Hayes. “We were moving into a construction site. So yeah, it has been difficult, but we are working through it.”
Island Crisis Care is meeting regularly with residents to find out their needs, outreach workers are “working really hard to make referrals” and Island Health is coming every day to talk about treatment and other supports, said Hayes, adding operators are “really happy” from that standpoint.
Mayor Leonard Krog said at Monday’s meeting that the supportive housing units were put up in a rush for a host of reasons and that’s created “a number of serious problems and serious concerns” in the neighbourhoods that can’t be solved overnight.
“We are not going to solve the homeless problem by simply disbanding the existing supportive housing units and saying, ‘go back into the community somewhere.’ They will fill up more parks and other parks and there will be other complaints from other neighbourhoods. This problem is going to take a concentrated effort,” Krog said.
“I wish I could give you a better answer. I do not wish to spend my time trying to deal with issues over which we have a limited amount of control. We have enough to do as a council dealing with those issues over which we have jurisdiction and control and for which we tax the citizens and the properties of this community to ensure solutions.”
-with files from Nicholas Pescod/Black Press