What are your strategies to address homelessness, drug addiction, mental health and the resulting unsafe environment? That’s a question The Discourse heard after we asked what questions you have for provincial election candidates.
We sent the question to candidates in the Nanaimo riding. BC Liberal Party candidate Kathleen Jones did not respond to the request by the deadline. We will update this story if we receive a response.
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Here are the candidates’ responses:
Sheila Malcolmson, BC NDP
Homelessness tripled during the BC Liberals’ 16 years in power, as social services were slashed. We’re instead investing in people, expanding addiction treatment centres, overdose prevention sites, and prescription alternatives to street drugs. Last year, overdose deaths dropped for the first time since 2012. But the pandemic has made everything worse. And the impacts on our streets are terrible and unacceptable. For Nanaimo, I’ve secured new tools to help:
1. Navigation Centre: 60-bed “bridge to housing” pilot, with access to addictions treatment and healthcare.
2. Situation Table: Ten BC communities already used this tool to shift 54% of police files to agencies better equipped to deal with the root causes of street disorder: poverty, addiction, and mental illness. This frees police to focus on violent and property crime. I started this last year with Nanaimo RCMP, took it to City Council in August, and it’s moving ahead.
3. Assertive Community Treatment team (our second): 24/7 mobile services for people with severe mental health challenges.
We got all these because I used the powerful letters folks wrote me, to convince five ministers Nanaimo should be a priority. City Council supported my requests, which helped. It’s a problem we’re working hard on. We will keep accelerating B.C.’s response across the full continuum of care: prevention, harm reduction, safe prescription medications, treatment, and recovery.
Lia Versaevel, BC Green Party
I have worked with those in poverty to address income security, debt, access to pensions, Canadian Pension Plan (CPP), Canada Pension Plan Disability (CPPD), homelessness, and immigration issues, and have advocated for those individuals with government and other agencies as a Poverty Law Advocate with the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society. This experience has given me an in-depth understanding of the causes of homelessness which must be addressed if we are to solve this growing problem.
The recent homeless count in Nanaimo revealed that there were more than 430 living on the streets, but the organizers estimate that the true figure is closer to 600. The main causes are unaffordable rents, and challenges due to mental illness or drug addiction, as well as brain injuries and disabilities. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant existing shelters have had to cut back on the number of available temporary beds for the homeless.
As your MLA I would advocate for a basic liveable income so that people can afford rents, more treatment beds for those suffering from substance abuse, increased supports and facilities for those with mental illness, as well as more psychiatric beds in NRGH, and more shelters and temporary housing to give the homeless a place to live during their transition to supportive housing.
Finally, since most addictions originate from childhood trauma, I would advocate for more supports in our schools to help vulnerable at-risk children. Let’s stop the damage before it starts!