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Monday, April 25, 2011

More on Supportive Social Housing, Nanaimo

Okay been a while again but am getting to it. With the rezoning of a property on Bowen Rd. for low barrier housing the debate for/against has reached a whole new level. So far the public hearing aaround the rezoning has lasted two sessions with another scheduled for May 5th.

Below are some links to news stories as well as a letter to the editor I wrote. I have also put a couple links to existing supportive housing in Kelowna and Prince George. The against side has been saying supportive husing initiatives in these communities have been squashed but these links, found in just five minutes on the interweb, show different. One of the presenters, opposed, at the last public hearing mentioned a stabbing at Warmlands Housing & Shelter in Duncan, After much searching I have been unable to find anything about this.

There is no doubt that the city's communication re this housing has been lacking but it appears mis-information on the whole is indemic in the debate. Also below is a transcript of my presentation at the public hearing last Wednesday.

Unfortunately I have not been keeping links to all the letters to the editor that have been written, many extremely derogatory towards those this type of housing would help.

April 25, 2011 Nanaimo Daily News (Letter)
Housing strategy will benefit this community

April 22, 2011 Nanaimo News Bulletin
Housing Plan continues to stir emotions

April 21 Daily News

April 16, 2011 Daily News
Housing project foes have to wait

April 16, 2011 Nanaimo News Bulletin
Nanaimo residents address council on low barrier housing

April 13th, 2011 Nanaimo News Bulletin
Social Housing proposals a win-win for everyone (Letter)

April 6, 2011
We can't revisit this

April 6
Bestwick alone won't nix plan

March 31, 2011
Housing Plan needs support from council

March 31st
Councillors waffle on housing plan

Some links to Low Barrier Housing

Cardington Apartments

Vivian House

Prince George
Bridget Moran Place

Presentation to Council
April 20, 2011
BYLAW NO. 4000.506

Gordon W. Fuller
604 Nicol St.
Nanaimo, BC V9R 4T9

Each and everyone in this room have, or will have, the right to get wasted in their own home. I am not saying it is right to do so but it is a fact and provided it is not done in a way that attracts the attention of the authorities can go on for years.

I grew up in a wet home. There was no influence from outside the home that led me to the streets at 13 and subsequently to 24 years of off and on homelessness as well as the use and abuse of pretty much every substance available. The influence came from home, a wet home, and an abusive alcoholic father.

Had there been supportive social housing available, like that which is being proposed for this and other sites, it likely would not have taken me 24 years to come to the realization that my time was being wasted, literally. It was only after meeting my then future wife, also abused in a wet home, and her son that I realized I wanted more not just for me but for us.

Since then I have gotten a degree in Child and Youth Care from VIU, I have worked in and run an emergency shelter as well as currently coordinating a housing unit for at risk youth. I am also the chair of the 7-10 Club, a community breakfast program for anyone in need, and involved with a number of other community and neighbourhood organizations. I am a staunch and outspoken advocate for the disenfranchised.

Over the years I have attended far too many memorial services for people on and from the street. Had many of these folk had a safe supportive and non judging environment in which to live, such as the supportive social housing being proposed, I haven’t the slightest doubt that many would still be with us and many would no longer be a slave to the behaviours that ultimately led to their passing.

A case in point is that of Cheryl Lynn Simm, murdered and dumped in an empty lot last year. Cheryl, or Cherri as most of us new her, had lived in a series of run down rooms and motels. After many years of on and off homelessness she had come to a point where she wanted to change but that was unfortunately cut short by her death on the streets. Had safe supportive housing been available I believe she would still be with us.

I am in full support of this rezoning and Nanaimo’s Homelessness Housing strategy; it is in my opinion a no brainer and a win/win for all.

Despite differing beliefs no one should fear speaking out. While we may not agree we must respect the rights of everyone to their opinions on this issue and not denigrate them for expressing them publicly.

Opposition to the proposed supportive social housing often state fears that this type of housing will draw criminal behaviour to the neighbourhood, many believe that because the proposed two locations in the Hospital Area will be located close to an elementary school it could unduly influence or cause harm to children.

Those opposed to the housing in the Hospital area have most often compared it with that of Warmlands low barrier housing and shelter in Duncan which itself is close to two schools. They often site many problems.

Recently some comments from a story in the Nanaimo News Bulletin have shown the exact opposite. “Cowichan school board chairwoman Candace Spilsbury confirmed there hasn't been any instances of unwanted contact between residents of Warmland and students despite the close proximity, RCMP reports back that up.’ “The schools are using Warmland as a resource. Residents at the facility have a garden and some of the food grown is taken into the schools to teach children about food security.” “The opportunity has been ‘a very positive experience’ for those involved and Warmland is viewed by many as a community resource.“ “The students who attend the schools – they and their families are also neighbours, ‘It's all tied together.’

An example of successful supportive housing closer to home would be the old Balmoral Hotel. Approximately 3 blocks from my own home this was an area rife with many problems but has seen great improvement since the Canadian Mental Health Association decided to purchase the hotel and convert it to supportive housing. Prior to this it was un-supervised single room occupancy and yes, because there was no supervision, it did attract an unsavoury element.

I have spoken with a number of residents in the Hospital Area, both for and against the proposed supportive housing, which have all told me that the people many fear this type of housing will attract are already living in or doing business in the area.

The bottom line is that these, your street level crack or crystal meth users, will not be the ones accessing the supportive housing or hanging around near it. Most are ambivalent about their drug use being a problem and want nothing to do with any type of actual or perceived authority and especially the possibility of being arrested.

This being said, when those using drugs reach a stage of at least contemplating there might be a problem the housing will be in place which they can access and have supports available to move them in a direction of change.

The people we are talking about housing are the chronic homeless, those that have been on and off the street for years. They were all children once. Did they come to be where they are now because of low barrier housing being near their schools? I think not.

Most came from wet homes, from situations of abuse and neglect. In the case of many first nations these behaviours are traceable to past abuse in residential schools and transferred down through the generations.

Many also have some form of mental illness as well as drug or alcohol use. The vast majority are not criminals but abuse alcohol and drugs as a means to cope.

Supportive social housing is one part of many housing first strategies that have seen a significant drop in chronic homelessness in many cities across Canada and the United States. Housing First is a strategy that the province has adopted and is in the process of funding in cities throughout BC. The funding in place now for Nanaimo is funding specifically geared towards building social supportive housing.

Other components consist of rent supplements, giving workers the ability to place an individual or family immediately into existing rental accommodation, as well as purchasing existing housing that could be used for both medium and high barrier abstinence based housing. Exactly the types of housing many opposed to these initial projects have mentioned and for which advocates will be seeking funding in the future.

Even when people want to move forward there is a lack of both detox and treatment beds available. It is also a fact that the recidivism rate for those going through detox and treatment will be far higher than the immediate successes. This makes it even more important that supportive housing is in place for when the choice of change is made again.

As for the cost to the taxpayer, research clearly shows that providing housing to the homeless will drastically reduce costs in health, justice and other services routinely accessed by the homeless. Costs saved that will ultimately pay for the housing itself.

Regarding the rezoning before you tonight I want to pose something, something which I have already posed to a few.

The Bowen Road property is valuable and likely a desirable property for mixed use commercial/residential development. Rezone this property and once done sell it to a developer for just such a use. We could put a 5 year covenant on the housing to allocate 50% to be rented to low income individuals and families based on 30% income. After the 5 years 10% could be covenanted in perpetuity.

Take the proceeds from the sale and purchase 2 other locations for supportive housing in other areas of the community. This would not only provide one to meet the current funding stream but another for future use as well.

I have heard that we must use this site but I have not seen specific site use set out in the memorandum of understanding, only that the city provide sites for use. I am sure that through discussion the above would be possible.

If, after an honest effort, I am wrong then as I said before, I am in full support of this rezoning and Nanaimo’s Homelessness Housing strategy; it is in my opinion a no brainer and a win/win for all.

On a final note I would like to invite anyone who is opposed to this housing to give me a call, come down to the 7-10 Club and I will introduce you to some of those who will benefit from the housing.

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