Op-ed: emergency shelters shouldn't erode community support for proper supportive housing

By Jim Spinelli
February 7, 2019 - 5:55pm

The outside of the Terminal shelter and the inside of a unit on Labieux.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

A few years ago, I wrote an opinion piece for local media on changing the way the community labels and speaks about social housing. The article talked about terms like “wet housing” as being misnomers for subsidized rental housing for people with low incomes.

I have noticed that these terms appear in print less often but, unfortunately, I have recently noticed them creep back into usage, particularly in terms of the recent response to “Tent City.”

This has prompted me to raise the issue again.

The most disturbing point for me is references to the emergency shelters on Terminal and Labieux as “supportive housing.”

Those facilities are not housing complexes. These two recently erected sites are temporary emergency shelters. Supports are offered but there is no offer of a safe, secure home in those temporary structures. I compare this response by BC Housing to emergency shelters being setup in the event of an earthquake or other major emergency.

I think many would agree the situation that existed at “Tent City” presented a true emergency for the City of Nanaimo. Whether you like the way the process was handled by the City and BC Housing, an urgent response was needed. Setting up temporary emergency shelters was and is a reasonable response.

I know that these complexes are not a solution for the long-term need for permanent supportive housing, however, I also know that permanent affordable housing can take several years to develop.

Unfortunately, it was not surprising that there would be many challenges to control problems in an environment where the residents do not have the responsibilities of being a tenant that are provided for in the Residential Tenancy Act.

Back to my main point about supportive housing.

There are several projects in Nanaimo that provide some level of supportive housing. Like the one where my office is located, they have been open for many years and have had no impact on the surrounding community. Since the project where my office is located was opened 22-years-ago, there have been two new condominium/townhouse projects that have been built less than 50-metres away!

This does not speak to supportive housing projects being destructive to or having a negative impact on the community. Even one of the other supportive housing projects that we operate, which has a target population of people who are absolutely homeless or at high risk of homelessness, has won the support of the local neighbourhood association.

We need to be aware going forward that the only solution to the growing number of homeless people in our community is to build hundreds, if not thousands, of permanent housing options that are affordable to those individuals at the very bottom of the economic ladder.

Some of those units will offer supports but most will offer independent, affordable housing.

As a community, we need to throw our complete support behind these projects so that we won’t have to allow “Tent City” to become a permanent fixture.


Jim Spinelli, CEO, Nanaimo Affordable Housing

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