Supportive Social Housing – Bowen Rd. on Hold

Gord Fuller – June 7, 2011

 Alrighty then, this is a bit on the long side but in a bid to provide some factual info what the heh.

So on May 30th a motion was made by Councillor Bill Holdom to approve the rezoning of the proposed Supportive Housing location on Bowen Rd. but put any development on hold until the others have been built and the need for more is determined.  Also the property could be sold.  Once moved and seconded the motion passed with only Councillors Bestwick and Sherry dissenting. 

This, in my personal opinion, was a good move on the part of council and close to what I had proposed, that of approving the rezoning and selling the property then purchasing one or two others in other locations for Supportive Social Housing.  The added benefit is that there will be a cooling down period and an opportunity, providing council and staff take it and the community is willing to get involved, to get some real information out and have some meaningful communication.

A lack of communication and too much misinformation, on both sides, has been part of the problem with the process for creating supportive social housing in Nanaimo.  Much of the misinformation came out in the over 12 hours of public hearings spanning 4 nights Public Hearing submissions , not to mention numerous news stories and letters to the editor.

To add to that fear has been used and spread by those initially opposed to galvanize the greater community.  Talk of pedophiles, criminal activity, prostitution and increased activity by drug dealers has taken away from the original intent of providing this housing for the homeless in our community. 

Street drug use, crack/crystal meth was predominantly mentioned as a concern by those opposed, very seldom was alcohol the topic of discussion.  It did come out at the public hearing that the Hospital/Bowen area already sees the drug trade on their streets as do most areas of Nanaimo.  The reality is most crack cocaine and crystal meth users want nothing to do with any level of supervision and will not access housing where they know that supervision exists.  Most are ambivalent about their drug use and have housing, of a sort, already.

This said, when one does start to contemplate change and a wish to remove their selves from the street drug culture this housing will be in place to provide safety and if needed referrals and help accessing detox and treatment programs.  The people the low barrier supportive units will help out the most, potentially saving lives, would be the street entrenched individuals with alcohol addictions.

Focusing on the misnomer of ‘Wet Housing’ has muddied the original intent and uses suggested for all the proposed sites.  ‘Wet Housing’ has been attached by the community to all the proposed housing when in fact only two of the original housing locations were proposed as Low Barrier.  Low barrier simply means that there would be no conditions attached to getting into the housing.

In an effort to provide some information and if one actually reads the Memorandum of Understanding, wonder how many folk have, it outlines a few important things folk should know.  For those not willing or too lazy to read the whole thing below offers some guidance towards sections and content pertinent to the discussion:  

Sec 1 – last sentence

Sec 3 – last paragraph

Sec 4 – last three sentences

Sec 8

Sec 10 (my commentimplies not all units will be supportive)

Sec 26 (my commentwould give this one a fail on the part of all involved)

The (MOU) between the Province and the City of Nanaimo commits to the construction of up to 160 units of new supportive housing on five sites. The total number of units is approximate and is likely to change through the design and development process.

For all sites, the Province will arrange for funding to build and operate the buildings. The City will lease its sites to non-profit partners (to be selected through a proposal call over the next few months) at a nominal cost, and the City will exempt all the developments from property taxes as long as the Province continues to provide operating subsidies.

1598 Townsite Road (Dufferin)

  • Owned by the City and located immediately adjacent to the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.
  • Approximately 70 units of apartment-style housing are envisioned for the site.
  • Given the proximity to the hospital and associated services, this site may be suitable for tenants with mental health and addictions issues.

1402-1590 Bowen Road

  • Owned by the City and located northwest of downtown, these properties could accommodate commercial or service uses at ground level and apartment-style housing above.
  • The property provides multiple transportation options and could serve more independent tenants in about 30 units.

437-445 Wesley Road and 421 Franklyn Street

  • Owned by the City and located downtown, the site can support approximately 40 apartment-style units.
  • Given the proximity of a range of services and resources, the development could be conducive to bachelor suites for homeless singles and those in need of higher levels of support services.

3515 Hillside Avenue

  • Owned by the Province, this property is the location of a group home.
  • A new home will be built next to it on the site. The tenants would then move into the new home, and the old home will be torn down and replaced with a new building.
  • In total, 10 housing units will be created on the site.

477 10th Street

  • Owned by the Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre, this property will be developed into an innovative 10-unit housing development for youth and elders.

As can be seen by the above, only the Wesley and Dufferin sites would be considered low barrier.  An unannounced, as yet, site in the North End is in response to cutting back the 70 units on Dufferin by half because of the objections of the neighbourhood. 

It should also be noted that to the best of my knowledge the Hillside Avenue site has been withdrawn by the province.  While not mentioned above the 10 units on this site would if I recall have been for couples or single parent families.  Personally I hope to see this one resurface in the future.