British Columbia

Nanaimo candidates address growing homelessness crisis in their city

As the people of Nanaimo prepare to head to the polls, the hot topic of how candidates intend to fix the city’s homelessness crisis is top of mind for many.

On the Island spoke with one mayoral candidate and two city council candidates ahead of Oct. 20

Campers at the 'Discontent City' homeless camp in Nanaimo were given 21 days to leave the site after a B.C. Supreme Court order was issued on Sept. 21. (Liz McArthur/CBC)

As the people of Nanaimo prepare to head to the polls, the hot topic of how candidates plan to fix the city's homelessness crisis is top of mind for many.

"Are you ready to go after provincial and federal funding and play your part on the ground to purchase land for affordable housing?" Signy Madden, executive director of the United Way for Central Vancouver Island, challenged the candidates.

Campers at Discontent City in downtown Nanaimo face an approaching deadline to leave after a Supreme Court order was issued on Sept. 21.

On the Island host Gregor Craigie spoke with three candidates about their ideas to get people off the streets and into homes. They also touched on whether Nanaimo city council's reputation can be saved after a tumultuous term.

Nanaimo's Discontent City is on a previously unused lot on the city's waterfront. (Liz McArthur)

Homelessness and affordable housing

Don Hubbard, former chair of Island Health's board of directors, is running for mayor and wants to see government address the systemic causes of homelessness, such as lack of opportunity and low incomes.

"We've gotta solve some of the issues immediately, but we need to look at why we got here," said Hubbard.

Erin Hemmens is a coroner in Nanaimo and one of 40 candidates for city council.

She says Nanaimo has a long history of deep poverty and the city hasn't been doing a good job of tackling it.

"Nanaimo is perfectly poised right now with a province that is motivated and has funding ready and a federal government that has set housing affordability as a priority," said Hemmens.

She points to the action plan to end homelessness and its steering committee as examples of how city council has been handed all the tools needed to get the job done.

"We really are well positioned to tackle it if we approach it with the right energy and mindset," she added.

Tyler Brown has spent the past six years as an urban planner with the regional district. If elected to city council, he says Nanaimo would need to be an active partner not only with other levels of government, but with its own citizens.

"We need to make sure that when we're acquiring land and doing the rezonings … that we're doing it with the community rather than against," said Brown.

He points to Nanaimo's failure to gain community support for a proposed modular housing complex for the homeless as an example of a lack of communication with the public.

"There was a lot of confusion … and as a result, the community was quite against it," he said.

Restoring faith

Over the past term, Nanaimo's government gained notoriety for reports of conflict and dysfunction between the mayor, the council and senior staff. 

"That's partly the reason I'm running," Hubbard said when asked how his council would be different.

"We have to bring civility, good governance and good leadership back to the Nanaimo council."

Hemmens agreed with Hubbard, adding that there is a lack of trust in council.

"We have an opportunity to change it with this new council … to improve relationships with staff. One way that I would like to see council approach that is by recognizing the expertise of our staff members."

Hemmens said she wants to work with a council that can let go of their differences and come together around the common good of the community.

Brown said council should hire a new chief administrative officer who could make the course correction needed in city hall without an abrupt, drastic change that would put stress on staff and the community.

You can listen to the full interview below;

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