New society in Nanaimo to coordinate response to social issues

A complex set of hard-to-solve social problems has worried residents and city officials for several years. These include health issues such as opioid overdoses, lack of affordable and supportive housing, need for specialized services, and crime.

A new independent society is being formed in Nanaimo to coordinate efforts to address long-standing social issues, including homelessness, and to work together on advocacy.

Nanaimo County Erin Hemmens said the new organization, to be called the Nanaimo Systems Planning Organization Society, is “valuable and much needed.”

It is expected to hold its first meeting before this summer and have an executive director working in the early fall.

“Many people and organizations have dedicated their time and effort to trying to find solutions to an overwhelming situation, and I am grateful to have participated in these discussions,” said Hemmens, who co-chaired the working group on the city ​​health and housing.

“The way forward will be much clearer with the SPO’s targeted advice, action and advocacy.”

It was made clear during the work of the task force that “we don’t have enough money for the community and there are only a limited number of levers we can pull in that direction”, said said Hemmens on Friday.

“The money we received was not necessarily well coordinated because all the service providers were throwing their money to the front line where it was desperately needed.”

There have likely been attempts to create something similar to the new organization before, she said. But “I don’t think there’s been a structural move like this before where we’ve had all the partners around the table and everyone saying, ‘OK, let’s try this together.’ ”

A complex set of hard-to-solve social problems has worried residents and city officials for several years. These include health issues such as opioid overdoses, lack of affordable and supportive housing, need for specialized services, and crime.

In 2018, Nanaimo had the largest tent city in the province. It was dismantled and the town has since moved more than once to dismantle groups of tents. Although new facilities, such as supportive housing, have been introduced, chronic social problems remain.

The city is not alone in its challenges. The province announced Thursday that it is commissioning a report to make recommendations on addressing issues of foreign violence and prolific offenders, problems seen in other communities in British Columbia.

Nanaimo Council has approved a charter for the new organization and will fund it at $480,000 a year for five years to see it established, Bill Corsan, director of corporate and business development, said Friday. During this time, the independent company should seek other sources of funding.

The body was recommended by the city’s health and housing task force, set up in 2019. The task force delivered a plan in 2021, which was approved by council.

The board voted unanimously on May 2 in favor of a charter allowing the implementation of the new organization.

It will be led by a CEO and a board of nine directors.

The society will provide research, data, analysis, education and information related to homelessness prevention and response.

This will allow for coordinated action and advocacy response by Nanaimo nonprofits, Snuneymuxw First Nation and other levels of government, the business sector and the wider community, the city said in a statement. .

Mayor Leonard Krog said the number of people with no fixed address having contact with the police increased by more than 20% in 2021 compared to 2020.

He said the new company would be “a huge step forward”.

This will maximize return on investment, “meaning that resources aimed at ending homelessness in Nanaimo are as effective as possible and will bring about much-needed change,” Krog said.

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