The number of people experiencing homelessness is continuing to increase, based on a point-in-time count last month.
According to a press release from the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition and the United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island, preliminary results from the March 12 count found at least 425 people living unsheltered in Nanaimo. That figure was up from the 2018 count which found 335 people experiencing homelessness. The 2016 count tallied 174 people.
“There’s a continuum of homelessness in our city, which includes sleeping rough, in cars, in shelters, transitional housing, hospitals and treatment facilities. Not to mention those who are on the cusp of homelessness because they’re underemployed or unemployed…” said Yvonne Borrows, co-chairperson of the coalition, in the release. “For us, the growing number of people experiencing homelessness just cements the fact that service providers are maxed out and more support is urgently needed.”
She said it will take a “concerted effort from all levels of government” as well as community support to solve issues around homelessness.
The coalition also expressed concerns that COVID-19 could be exacerbating some of the issues for people experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness. The release notes that service providers are struggling with staffing due to self-isolation measures, shelters have had to reduce capacity, and food services have been limited or shut down. The Nanaimo Homeless Coalition also expressed, in the release, concern that job layoffs and other economic pressures could cause more people to become homeless.
“The negative economic impacts of COVID-19 on those who are already on the edge of homelessness will push more vulnerable people out of their homes,” said Jason Harrison, co-chairperson of the coalition.
At a special council meeting April 1, Nanaimo city council passed three motions addressing pandemic response as it relates to people experiencing homelessness. Council approved a staff plan to provide additional water and washroom access, expected to be funded by Emergency Management B.C., and also agreed to lead a co-ordinated emergency response and direct creation of a food plan. At a regular council meeting April 6, council took an additional step, voting 5-4 in favour of a motion to update the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition weekly on pandemic response.
“It has been indicated to us that there is a bit of a gap in communication…” said Coun. Erin Hemmens. co-chairperson of the city’s health and housing task force. “This is really just a check-in. It’s not a report, it’s simply a communication. As we’re all working in the same direction, it’s good to share information.”
For information about services being offered by members of the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition, visit https://www.uwcnvi.ca/covid-19/service-updates.