The chairman of the Nanaimo 7-10 Club Society is inviting opponents of the city’s latest social housing projects to meet the type of people who would be living in the units.
“It’s a standing invitation to anyone who has concerns about social housing to come to the 7-10 Club, meet the people and learn a little about them,” said Gord Fuller. “I made the same offer during the controversy over the Bowen Road units, but got little response.”
The city and provincial government announced the last two sites in the Housing First initiative Tuesday, with 35- to 40-unit buildings to be built at 1621 Dufferin Cres. and 6025 Uplands Dr., near Nanaimo Fire Rescue Station No. 3 on Hammond Bay Road.
The program provides shelter and access to programs for those in need, but also allows residents to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while staying there, though drugs and alcohol may or may not be allowed on the premises.
As part of the program, the city is required to provide the land for the facilities.
Other projects in Nanaimo include an 18-unit development on Tenth Street for aboriginal youth and elders, and an 36-unit on Wesley Street scheduled to open next spring.
A 36-unit facility planned for 1406 Bowen Rd. has been put on hold following a series of contentious public hearings surrounding the project’s proximity to an elementary school, increased traffic and effect on property values.
Fuller said the reason Nanaimo has a street population is that any accommodation they can get is sub-standard.
“Yes, at times, their behaviours do get them evicted, but it’s usually not due to things like theft or drug dealing. Most of the chronic homeless in town aren’t drug-addicted, they have alcohol issues,” he said. “Some of them may never change, but by keeping them on the street, it actually costs us far more than giving them housing.
“With stable housing, some in active addiction might actually see the supports available and get out of the addiction.”
The Uplands Drive site is next door to Nanaimo Seniors Village and Howard Van Impe, manager of assisted and independent living, said the residents have concerns.
“We are dealing with vulnerable seniors and have two schools and another care facility in the area. That’s an awful lot of vulnerable folks,” he said. “They’re concerned about the increase in potential crime and their ability to be able use the outdoors the same way.”
But Van Impe said the biggest issue is a lack of public consultation on the decision.
“We’re aware the property is zoned correctly for the project and does not require a public hearing to go ahead, but certainly for public relations and the success of the project you would think they would inform area residents,” he said. “Look what’s happened on Bowen Road. That worked so well it’s own hold. Sometimes communication and education is the better way to promote something and get people behind you as opposed to working against you.”
Management at Nanaimo Seniors Village has invited the city to visit and provide details on the project.
“We need to know what is the reality. How is the housing project on Tenth Street doing? Are people in treatment having success? Has crime gone up in the area? said Van Impe. “ We need to make an informed opinion. When something is a hot topic, trying to slide it in just doesn’t work. It just makes a bunch of taxpaying citizens angry.”
Fuller agrees correct information is vital for everyone involved.
“Look at this objectively and not out of fear of property values or increased crimes,” he said. “Connect with someone that will talk to you on an objective basis with out bringing defensiveness or aggression into it.”
There will be people who will never change their minds about social housing and those with mental illness and addictions, but Fuller said most have legitimate concerns that could be lessened with meaningful discussion.
Fuller can be reached at 250-714-0917.