To address disturbing homelessness trends

Nelson considers new homelessness strategies

Housing First approach will prioritize mentally ill and chronically homeless individuals.

Nelson is exploring a variety of strategies to assist the homeless in our community, spurred on by the release last week of the sixth annual Report Card on Homelessness.

The report identified some disturbing trends in the Nelson area, including a rise in the number of shelter and soup kitchen visits. Many of the people accessing these services are youth, seniors or individuals suffering from mental illness. The findings were presented to a Nelson CARES-sponsored forum held at Our Daily Bread on June 17.

“My reaction was two-fold,” said city councillor Donna Macdonald. “One, I was extremely impressed by the commitment and the quality of the people in that room who work for not very much money every day to try and help people find security and safety in their lives.”

However, Macdonald said, there’s still lots of work to be done.

“We’re not making progress. Meals at Our Daily Bread have gone up astronomically. We’re not achieving more affordable units at a very impactful rate. When I look at that, at the trends and the work our community workers are doing, I feel very frustrated and angry that all this work is being dumped on communities to do,” she said.

Macdonald feels the provincial and federal government have not been contributing.

“The poverty in communities through BC is not being addressed by the provincial government and I think that’s shameful,” she said.

She said Nelson is a very community-oriented, volunteer-driven city and people upset by the report should look at getting involved with local initiatives, but the real issue is the lack of support from senior levels of government.

“As a community we’re doing a lot already. Attention should be focused primarily at the provincial level. We need to encourage the BC government to create a poverty reduction strategy.”

She noted that BC is one of two provinces that doesn’t currently have one.

Councillor Bob Adams said he found the forum upsetting.

“It’s sad. I don’t know what other word to use. We need to try to do more for people that need homes,” he said.

Adams said perhaps the city could encourage the construction of affordable housing by waiving building permits or offering other incentives. He said the community needs to be educated on the realities, and then figure out how to come together.

He pointed to Anderson Gardens, a three-storey rental housing facility dedicated to low-income seniors and people with disabilities that was completed in January 2013, as an example of the type of housing they need to encourage.

“This is very important for the City of Nelson,” he said. “When projects come up like this, the least we can do is support them.”

Adams agreed with Macdonald that plans to reduce poverty need to be implemented.

One of the ways Nelson is moving forward is with the five-year renewal of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS).

The HPS allocation for Nelson is $118,810 a year until 2019, for a total of $594,050.The major change will be the implication of Housing First, a program that prioritizes those who receive support.

According to a press release, in the past “communities could choose to spread their HPS funds around and do a little of everything for everyone, based on first come, first served basis. Under the HF approach, communities are expected to prioritize chronically and episodically homeless individuals and target their funding to enable this group to succeed.”

Brad Crewson, a representative from Victoria’s Street to Homes project, was at the forum to introduce the Housing First model to the public. He shared his own experiences with the homeless community on Vancouver Island.

“This new approach is being touted federally and provincially and has proved itself. It’s a very exciting initiative” said Macdonald. She said the Housing First approach will ultimately save taxpayers money on policing and hospital costs.

“Generally when you’re talking about homelessness, you’re talking about people with serious mental health, abuse or addiction issues. Police across the country are finding a great volume of their resources is being spent on picking up the same person over and over. And police officers aren’t trained for that,” she said.

“I think it’s hopeful that the federal and provincial governments are at least using the words Housing First. The up front investment in enabling someone to be housed and supported will in the end provide a higher quality of life for that individual and will save people money,” she said.

She said they need to make sure that appropriate funds are earmarked for making Housing First a success.

The Nelson city council is currently updating their affordable housing strategy, which was completed in 2010. They plan to hold a targeted focus group in the Fall to bring together architects, builders, financial providers and others to discuss how best to move forward.

“The housing strategy has two parts. The first is need and demand. The second is strategy: how do we address those gaps? What can the city do? What can the community do?”

She said secondary suites are already allowed in Nelson, but there may be other policies and initiatives they can explore.

“It’s going to have to be a broad community initiative,” she said.

The homelessness report is available for download at nelsoncares.ca. For a physical copy you can call 250-352-6011, extension 19.

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