City council to approve $350K to tackle homelessness, including drop-in centre

By Spencer Sterritt
March 14, 2018 - 5:04pm Updated: March 14, 2018 - 6:00pm

Homeless protesters set up camp at City Hall over a lack of housing and services, which city councillors tried to fix in a finance committee meeting on Wednesday.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW Staff

NANAIMO — A significant amount of money was pledged in hopes of calming disorder caused by Nanaimo's homelessness crisis.

City councillors passed a motion recommending approval of a $350,000 package of initiatives during Wednesday's finance and audit committee meeting. Included in the spend is $100,000 to begin work on establishing a daytime drop-in centre, considered a critical part of the solution.

Social planner John Horn said the centre, which would be open for eight hours a day, seven days a week, would hopefully offer services, programs and amenities to make a real and significant impact on curbing homelessness in the Harbour City.

“Many of the items we bring forward are tinkering at the edges, trying to address the impact of things which have happened around homelessness. We're not fundamentally getting at the issue of how many people do we have on our streets. We have to really fundamentally change the feel of our streets.”

A staff report to councillors said it would cost roughly $250,000 a year to run and staff the centre. The $100,000 provided allows staff to start work on the project, building partnerships to cover other costs and find possible locations.

The drop-in centre was one of several initiatives proposed and supported by councillors.

The staff report listed more than $250,000 in other funding opportunities to tackle homelessness in the City, including more needle disposal boxes, continued funding of the extreme weather shelter and expanded hours for downtown security.

The funding would last until the end of the year.

Horn said all the options presented in Wednesday's report are crucial in making sure Nanaimo isn't caught off-guard by the possibility of a significant homeless encampment, which he suggested is a very real possibility either this summer or next.

“As the summer comes along and more people are present on our street, we're going to have to solve the camping problem in a real way. To date, we've hoped we don't get a big encampment in our community and to date that strategy has worked.

“We have to be a little more pro-active and identify where we want people to camp...It's a complicated discussion and we haven't gone very far down the road on that.”

A sizable homeless camp has already captured national attention.

Roughly a dozen tents were set up at City Hall protesting the lack of affordable housing in the community and the demise of a provincially-fund 44-unit supportive housing project down in Chase River.

Co-organizer Amanda Orum said she and other protesters left the committee meeting feeling optimistic. She said once the $350,000 in funding received final approval at Monday's council meeting, they'll remove the tents and end their protest.

Motions and recommendations made at finance and audit committee meetings, which are attended by all members of Council, are almost always approved at the Council level.

A significant amount of the funding will come from an increase in property taxes, interim financial officer Laura Mercer told councillors. If given final approval, 2018 property taxes would rise 0.26 per cent, bringing the overall projected increase to 2.96 per cent.

The money supporting the extreme weather shelter and providing rent supplements for homeless individuals, each costing $45,000 a year, will come from the Housing Legacy Reserve.

The funding commitment comes three months after councillors were presented with a similar package of options to deal with the crisis. At the time, they chose to approve interim measures for $60,000 instead of the significantly higher amount recommended by staff in the Dec. 13, 2017 report.


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