The city is expected to convert its emergency cold-weather shelter next month into a daytime drop-in centre for people experiencing homelessness.
Nanaimo city councillors, at a finance meeting Wednesday, Feb. 16, voted unanimously to recommend spending $15,000 to open daytime drop-in space at Caledonia Park daily during the month of March.
The park is already home to a shower program and a shelter on days that meet an extreme-weather threshold. Nanaimo 7-10 Club Society has been operating the cold-weather shelter and has also opened it on some additional days that were not considered extreme-weather days and not funded by taxpayers, said Dale Lindsay, the city’s general manager of development services.
The City of Nanaimo examined daytime services for its vulnerable population after the non-profit group Risebridge requested funding for its Warmreach warming centre. The city’s finance and audit committee asked for a staff report, and Lindsay said staff met with various agencies.
“During our recent cold-weather events this season … all of the facilities were in very high demand and at maximum capacity,” Lindsay said. “A very interesting theme that did emerge from those discussions is that all our partners out there providing services identified that one of the biggest challenges is appropriate space – a dedicated building and appropriate space in order to provide the service remains, to them, one of the largest barriers.”
The city’s health and housing task force’s action plan has recommended the establishment of a systems planning organization and Coun. Ben Geselbracht said that group will be “best-equipped” to determine service gaps and resourcing.
“We’re in a bit of a gap period before that’s up and running, which we’ve been in for a while,” he said.
Coun. Erin Hemmens, who was a member of the task force, said she wanted to caution her peers that the SPO isn’t going to be the solution to all the city’s homelessness issues.
“I worry that we’re putting a lot on it in terms of the solutions we’re expecting it to find for us,” she said. “It’s a collaborative process that’s going to be bumpy.”
Risebridge presented its own report, recommending expanding the daytime shelter hours at Caledonia Park and another existing warming centre as well as potentially providing support for its own warming and outreach services. Risebridge’s report pointed to “the violence and danger faced by unhoused and street-entrenched individuals” and asked the city to cease “traumatizing” dispersement policies and add accountability, and improve access to safe camping “within reasonable distance” to services.
“It’s not ethical or responsible to continue to exist without basic resource access opportunities and shelter spaces which provide essential supports that can aid in the ongoing emergency crisis within our community that continues to get worse every day,” Risebridge’s report noted.