Supportive housing has helped to tackle some problems but has created others, and that’s something that’s on the minds of Nanaimo byelection voters.
Candidates said they’ve been hearing about concerns around temporary supportive housing projects at Terminal Avenue and Labieux Road, and debated the issue Thursday at the Beban Park social centre.
“The people of that neighbourhood feel that there was a serious abuse of power here, there was no due process,” said Bill Walker of the Libertarian Party. “Property crimes have escalated in that area vastly. People are real worried about their property values. There’s drug dealing going on. It really is a disaster for that neighbourhood.”
Asked how supportive housing can be made palatable to residents, Walker said he doesn’t think they’ll be happy no matter what.
“There’s some hard decisions that are going to have to be made there, but the wrong decision was made in the first place,” he said.
Sheila Malcolmson, NDP candidate, said the province, after a court order affecting tent city and in the absence of direction from the city council of the day, had to impose measures. She said that sort of situation shouldn’t have to happen.
“The homelessness crisis was 16 years in the making and the repair job to move tent city to modular housing was done on an emergency basis,” Malcolmson said. “But I really regret that it has had impacts on the neighbouring communities and [is] really wearing out the front-line groups that have been asked to take the burden.”
She said additional affordable housing in Nanaimo is in the works, and she has talked to the B.C. housing minister about solutions at the modular housing sites.
“Maybe split them up, get more wraparound services and take the pressure off,” she said.
Michele Ney, B.C. Green Party candidate, estimated that there are still 200 other homeless people on the streets and in the woods in Nanaimo and she said there needs to be continued attention toward root causes.
“We’ve had 16 years of cuts in education and health care and those children who have deep-rooted social, emotional, physical issues and traumas have been not addressed and supported as they’ve moved through the education system,” Ney said. “What we need to do is reinstate those funds to support those people so that they can be contributing members of our community and workforce.”
More specifically around the supportive housing, Ney said there needs to be consultation with stakeholders and residents, monitoring of addictions treatment and mental health care, and “adequate supports in place 24 hours a day” at the sites.
“And the No. 1 thing that we should be looking at is safety for these people as well as the residents,” Ney said.
B.C. Liberal Party candidate Tony Harris said the province needs to work with the City of Nanaimo “to challenge for proper locations” to be zoned for supportive housing.
“But it’s really important to consult with the people of our community, because I believe that people in our community felt like they were run roughshod on and that wasn’t right how that was handled,” Harris said.
He said if he is elected MLA, he would work collaboratively with all levels of government to find a solution that works for everybody. He said residents are empathetic, but want “strength in policing” and safety where they live.
“And what I’ve promised those people is that I’d like to work with them on an action plan to deliver the solutions that they feel will make their neighbourhoods safe,” Harris said, adding that he thinks there should be more needle and security sweeps at Beban Park.
Justin Greenwood of the B.C. Conservatives said with the amount of money the province spent on buying the Terminal Avenue site and installing the modular homes, there should have been greater transparency and accountability in the process. He questioned other candidates’ responses about social services.
“What kind of programs? Unless these programs are directed at self-reliance, nothing is going to work,” Greenwood said.
Robin Richardson, Vancouver Island Party candidate, favours a $1,800-per month guaranteed income which he suggested would end poverty, curb crime and provide incentive for developers to build affordable housing. He said if he is elected MLA he will listen to neighbourhood associations and respond.
Walker said there needs to be more rental housing and more housing, period. He disagreed that homelessness, addictions and crime are 16-year-old problems and said they’ve been 50 years in the making.
“Tent city has turned into Terminal ghetto and I rather suspect that that place is going to be there for a long time, causing a lot of problems for the neighbourhood,” he said.