STORY OF THE YEAR: Social housing polarizes community

The task of providing of roof over the heads of Nanaimo’s homeless has had a polarizing effect on the community in 2011.

The task of providing of roof over the heads of Nanaimo’s homeless has had a polarizing effect on the community in 2011.

From four, four-hour public hearings in the spring regarding 36 units of social housing proposed for Bowen Road, to the the uproar following September’s announcement that Uplands Drive in north Nanaimo is going to be the site of a similar project, opinions have definitely varied among residents and emotions have ranged from fear to compassion.

Talk of low-barrier housing and residents allowed to continue using drugs or consuming alcohol in the privacy of their own homes has people worried about increased crime.

Parents worry about their children walking to school, seniors worry they will no longer be able to stroll around their neighbourhoods in the evening and homeowners worry about lower property values.

Others say the opposition to social housing is based on paranoia, that the hostility to mental illness is misplaced and that drug addicts and alcoholics are people too, and deserve our help.

I’ve spoken to a police officer and retired fire captain who both say the picture being painted of most of the homeless is distorted.

They’re not all monsters scheming to rob and assault us. They are people in trouble, busy trying to survive day-to-day.

A lack of information about the housing initiatives was at the root of the community’s fears.

And that fault falls on the provincial government for handcuffing the city with its bureaucratic red tape.

Let’s hope now that operators of the projects have been named, the proper information will reach the community and still the fears.