‘650 people living on the streets’: Nanaimo council looks into building new shelter

'650 people living on the streets': Nanaimo council looks into building new shelter

A divided Nanaimo city council has asked city staff to investigate building a 100-person homeless shelter.

It’s not something municipalities usually initiate, but the councillor who put the motion forward says the status quo is not acceptable.

“It’s born of frustration and a desire to act on the crisis that we’re facing,” said Coun. Erin Hemmens.

Hemmens wants city staff to report on the costs of building a basic homeless shelter for 100 people with electricity and washrooms.

“The resources aren’t coming from the province in the volume or at the pace that we need it to. That’s a fact, and we have 650 people living on the streets,” said Hemmens.

On Monday night, Nanaimo council voted five to four to ask staff for the report on building a shelter. That was after more than 30 minutes of discussion.

Mayor Leonard Krog was among those against the motion.

“I have never been prepared to see city money used to run shelters which are a provincial responsibility,” said Krog.

“City of Nanaimo taxpayers have enough to foot when managing the essential services that municipalities have to deliver. The province has had six years, this new government, to deal with this issue.”

Hemmens believes making a first step could elicit some provincial funding.

“If we make investment easy for the province who is struggling just like we are to balance the budget and to serve all the needs that we have, then maybe that will increase our chances of getting funding,” said Hemmens.

The motion did not include a location for the shelter. Hemmens suggested it be built for those with the highest possibility of finding a permanent home in future.

Risebridge, an organization that helps the marginalized, says it’s a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s the responsibility of all levels of government to address this crisis that we’re currently living in,” said Jovanne Johnson, Risebridge’s executive director.

“It’s a scary scene knowing that we’re shutting down at the end of March for our warming centre operations, and so is Saint Peters’ shelter, which usually provides 30 to 35 beds.”

Council has asked for the staff report to be delivered by June 1.

Last March, the province opened supportive housing on Nicol Street for more than 60 people.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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