Mayor John Ruttan speaks during a ground-breaking ceremony at the Uplands Drive supportive housing development Wednesday.

Mayor John Ruttan speaks during a ground-breaking ceremony at the Uplands Drive supportive housing development Wednesday.

Nanaimo celebrates construction of supportive housing

NANAIMO – More than 40 people turned out to the ground-breaking ceremony for the new Uplands supportive housing complex Wednesday.

Nanaimo’s mayor is calling for public support on future homeless housing initiatives, as the $7.3- million Uplands project gets underway.

Construction has officially started for Uplands Walk, a 33-unit supportive housing complex in north Nanaimo.

Government officials broke ground on the once highly-contentious project Wednesday during homeless action week. They say this build is an important step toward ending homelessness in the Harbour City, helping to provide people with shelter and support services needed to turn their lives around.

The building, scheduled to be complete next August, will house people over the age of 45 who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“When we started down this road … there were a lot of challenges and people in the community had some concerns about what was going to happen,” said Ruttan during a groundbreaking ceremony.

“I am so pleased to see what we  going to accomplish on this site will address the very needs we need to, because there is no more important … people to help than those who can’t help themselves.”

The Uplands supportive housing project was announced  two years ago by the B.C. government as part of a $34-million strategy to permanently house Nanaimo’s homeless and mentally ill. The move sparked public backlash from concerned citizens, who not only took issue with a lack of public consultation about the site, but feared effects around reduce property values and potential crime.

Nanaimo officials say they have seen peoples’ attitude change as a result of seeing how other supportive housing projects operate. The mayor is now encouraging the public to get behind future housing initiatives necessary for the community.

“I just find it a little bit difficult to understand where the angst came in the first place,” Ruttan said. “I know people said they wouldn’t want supportive housing built beside [them]… but the locations are good and these are multi-million dollar builds, they are not some kind of little shack.”

Coun. Fred Pattje, who attended the groundbreaking ceremony, said the decision for the site was made in camera and the city did not reach out to residents soon enough – a lesson they learned from. But looking back he is glad he remained steadfast on his support to have the site located in north-Nanaimo, despite the opposition.

If he – or other council members – had buckled, the project might not have happened, he said.

“I can assure you I was not liked in the neighbourhood,” Pattje said.

Site operators Pacifica Housing, members of the RCMP and Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell also attended the event. Stilwell called the day “momentous.”

“For those who will call this place home, these services are the building blocks to a more stable and independent life,” she said.