A woman who said she was too frightened to walk past a group of unhoused people to shop downtown pitched her idea to combat homelessness to Nanaimo city council this week.
Joanne Dallman, a retired registered nurse, yoga teacher and artist, who moved to Nanaimo earlier this year, spoke to council Monday, Dec. 19, about a tiny homes concept to provide housing and addiction treatment and rehabilitation.
“I was trying to get to the art store and I tried three different routes and I couldn’t get by this group of people,” she said. “Finally I just gave up and went home. I was just too afraid to walk … within this group and this galvanized me to just start looking into this project.”
Dallman said it costs a community more – about $12,000 to $154,000 annually – for hospital visits, paramedics, police, social services, court and temporary shelter, to deal with an unsheltered person than for one who is housed with support services.
The ‘Tiny Home Project,’ she said, is a four-stage plan that starts a client in a small cabin and as that person progresses through their recovery, they move into larger homes and even get the chance at buying a small modular house. Addiction treatment, education and other services would be provided on site.
Dallman asked council to approve the project, in principle, and to work with the province to take the next steps.
“We have a considerable homeless population in Nanaimo and it would take about 50 or 60 of these small little tiny towns to accommodate everybody,” said Coun. Paul Manly, “but I do think that there’s the possibility of trying to do this and there are people who are living in cars in our community and people just trying to camp and they’re not necessarily connected with people who … you were worried about navigating through to the arts store.”
Manly asked if city staff had looked at the existing tiny home sites in Duncan and if there were possible locations in Nanaimo where tiny homes could be set up.
Dale Lindsay, city general manager of development services, said the city is aware of what other cities are doing, but Nanaimo has more experience with housing people in modular homes and working with B.C. Housing.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said the previous council considered the tiny town concept, but opted for modular housing.
“We did look at this very seriously and the decision was made to go with the modular units because we could house 60 people versus housing five,” Armstrong said.
The limited amount of city land available and the high cost of purchasing additional land were also factors in the city’s decision. Lindsay said city staff generated reports for the previous council, but a report could be produced for the current council if so directed.
Jake Rudolph, the city’s chief administrative officer, said the reports could be brought back for a housing workshop scheduled for January.
“I think what we need to do is find places that are safe for some people to camp or to park vehicles or to be in this community because there are homeless people in our community that don’t fit the profile of what most citizens think of as the unhoused population and those people need safe places to be,” Manly said. “They need to be able to set up shelters, to remain in shelters and to be warm and dry because we do not have enough shelter spaces in this community. Right now we’re in a cold snap and it’s not humane the way people are living on our streets.”