A small but loud group of north-end residents opposed to how the city has handled the Housing First project had its first opportunity to publicly address council Monday.
Organized by the previously anonymous Concerned Citizens of Nanaimo, a committee of 20 people that questions the decision to place homeless people, some of whom are addicted to drugs or alcohol or suffer mental illnesses, in a residential neighbourhood.
Katia Langton, a spokeswoman for the group, provided council with a petition of almost 1,400 signatures from residents and business owners who want the process that determined the site revisited. She said residents are angry there was no public consultation prior to the site announcement for 6025 Uplands Dr.
Langton said the city didn’t follow the Homeless Action Plan, created through a memorandum of understanding in 2008 when the city and province partnered on the Housing First strategy, that identifies the need to facilitate community acceptance and early engagement in advance of any sites or funding.
Similar to residents in the city’s hospital district, which will also receive a 35-unit low-barrier facility, Langton said people in the north end are worried about the safety of children and elderly and are disillusioned with a process that did not include public input.
“We have concerns based on our research,” she said. “Small groups of four units would be a second chance at rehab. Forty units is a party and a draw to drug dealers … let’s revisit this as this is just wrong.”
Coun. Fred Pattje questioned Langton’s commitment to the democratic process, since she refused to take questions from council after her presentation. He also took exception to Langton’s statement at the council meeting that he told her in a previous conversation residents of the low-barrier facility would be cured “within three to four weeks.”
“She is putting words in my mouth,” said Pattje. “Never, ever did that come from my lips.”
Coun. Merv Unger also took exception to Concerned Citizens of Nanaimo’s campaign, citing a mail-out by the group depicting an idyllic urban scene with a drug addict shooting up against a white picket fence with bold white letters stating: ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’
“There is a lot of fear-mongering going on,” said Unger. “[Concerned Citizens of Nanaimo] is scaring a lot of seniors when this type of material is being sent door to door anonymously … and full of misleading information.”
Gord Fuller, president of the 7-10 Club, said the Housing First strategy is working and if implemented earlier, would have saved the lives of homeless people who have died on Nanaimo’s streets.
“It helps these people move forward in their fight against addiction,” he said. “As and advocate for social change and poverty issues in Nanaimo for well over a decade, I have attended far too may memorial services for many in the community who, I have no doubt whatsoever, would still be here, had the strategy been implemented sooner.”
Coun. Jim Kipp said this phase of the housing strategy adds to roughly 1,700 units of various forms of affordable housing available in Nanaimo.
One-hundred and sixty low barrier units will ultimately be provided in Nanaimo in partnership with the provincial government with sites located on Tenth Street, Wesley Street, Townsite Road (behind the Chinese Cemetery), and the Uplands location. A 35-unit site at 1406 Bowen Road is reserved if there is demand once all the other sites are operational after residents in that neighbourhood strongly contested the site during a rezoning process.
Under the Housing First agreement, Nanaimo is expected to provide the land for the facilities while the province will contribute $34 million to build and staff each of the sites.