Group continues to advocate for vulnerable citizens

Now that low-barrier housing will go ahead, Green Light Project will focus more on helping city's homeless.

  • Jan. 13, 2012 2:00 p.m.

A group that formed last fall to provide a voice for potential supportive housing tenants plans to continue its advocacy efforts.

Katie Durvin and Shayd Johnson founded the Green Light Project in response to negative information circulated about low-barrier housing prior to November’s municipal election, citing at the time that the welfare of the city’s most vulnerable citizens should not be a political issue.

Low-barrier facilities and the process used to advise the public were contested in Nanaimo’s north end and in the hospital area.

The Uplands Drive location resulted in opposition from neighbours and spawned a group called Concerned Citizens of Nanaimo, which used the issue as a political one to get candidates opposed to the location elected. The group has had recent chatter on its Facebook page, but has not had any community activity since the Nov. 19 election, in which two of the six candidates it backed, Bill Bestwick and Bill McKay, were elected.

The 40-unit Uplands Road facility will begin construction in 2013, while a 36-unit Bowen Road facility is shelved until demand requires it. Another facility on Dufferin Crescent is going ahead.

The city announced service providers for low-barrier facilities in early December, which will provide for  tenants, some with alcohol and drug addictions, and mental illness.

In November, Durvin and Johnson set out to explore a way of providing a voice for people who may be selected to reside in the low barrier facilities. Durvin said amongst the controversy, the people who would be most affected by the decisions had not had an opportunity to be heard from.

So she and Johnson, through social service providers and background checks through the RCMP, interviewed Dennis and Roxy, a young Nanaimo couple living on welfare in a downtown motel.

In it, Dennis is frank in communicating the challenges he faced as a youngster and the path that led him to be on welfare. Born a crack baby and abused by his father, he tells of a life void of any opportunity while passing through 20 foster homes.

The day he is interviewed, he says it is Roxy’s birthday, but that he only has $15 to last until the following week, which he’ll need for food.

“I would like to get her something nice but I don’t have the money,” he says.

The eight-minute video can be viewed at

“Our goal of the video was to simply give those who could potentially apply for the low barrier housing a voice,” said Durvin. “Because throughout this entire discussion their voices have not been heard, which is just not right. We hope it helped to show the community what it is like to live in poverty and in unstable living conditions, and to show that there really is a strong need for low barrier housing.”

With low barrier facilities now imminent, Durvin said Green Light Project will take a different direction, focusing more on directly helping those in the community who need assistance. In December, the group created a volunteer list of social service organizations that needed help for Christmas for its 40 or so members, and Durvin and Johnson were recently invited by the city to be a member of the Nanaimo Working Group on Homelessness, which they accepted.

“We felt this was a meaningful way … to learn more about homelessness and poverty in Nanaimo,” said Durvin.

For 2012, Green Light Project will continue to interview and post videos of potential low barrier housing applicants while working on the front lines to assist them.

“We are thrilled that the housing developments are going ahead and look forward to the day when the tenants are able to move into their new, safe homes,” said Durvin.

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