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Two navigation centres for Vancouver, Nanaimo delayed following 2020 B.C. budget promise

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Nearly three years after two new 60-bed navigation centres were promised in the February 2020 B.C. budget, the province has still not delivered on the enhanced shelters with 24-hour support for people experiencing homelessness.

The government announced in August 2020 that it would be partnering with the City of Vancouver to launch B.C.’s first-ever navigation centre while a month later, it revealed it was working with the city of Nanaimo, through BC Housing, to open a second navigation centre.

Both facilities were expected to be operational by the spring of 2021 but have been delayed by approximately 18 months.

The City of Vancouver told Global News it continues to work with BC Housing to finalize the navigation centre site location and will share more information once a site is confirmed.

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BC Housing said Vancouver’s navigation centre is still “early in the planning stage” and it is engaged in ongoing discussions with the city to determine an appropriate location.

“It’s desperately needed,” Vancouver city councillor Pete Fry told Global News Sunday.

“With the tents along Hastings Street and the encampment in CRAB Park, those aren’t sustainable, they’re untenable. We need to get better solutions.”

BC Housing told Global News it remains committed to finding a suitable location for a navigation centre in Nanaimo, where a non-profit partner with extensive homelessness and mental health experience has been selected to operate the future site, once secured.

The ideal space would be an existing property that has the proper zoning and does not require significant renovations.

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Many Nanaimo commercial properties meeting those criteria have been evaluated, according to BC Housing, which has been unable to move forward with any of the sites for various reasons, including “insufficient square footage, incorrect zoning, and the high cost of renovations.”

It adds any potential site will require support from a majority of the city council.

Nanaimo mayor Leonard Krog, who estimates up to 900 people are currently living on his city’s streets, said he believes restrictions surrounding the length of the lease may be dissuading some landlords from renting their properties.

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“Nanaimo is desperate for a navigation centre and we hope that the requirements will be adjusted to make sure it can happen and happen quickly,” Krog told Global News in an interview Sunday.

“We’ve been waiting a long time. We need it, but most importantly, the vulnerable people on our streets need it and the people who are affected by their behaviours need it.”

B.C.’s Attorney General and Ministry Responsible for Housing said the government is still committed to providing $9 million in funding to allow each navigation centre to operate for three years.

Former B.C. housing minister and current finance minister Selina Robinson blames the delay on “bureaucratic challenges” associated with securing suitable urban sites in both cities.

“We’d hoped they would be open by now but we haven’t been successful in finding the right location and making sure that it had the right size, the right zoning,” Robinson told Global News Saturday.

Once up and running, the 60-bed, referral-only centres will provide integrated clinical health support, as well as culturally appropriate services for Indigenous peoples.

Read more: Vancouver fire chief orders DTES tent city to be cleared, cites ‘catastrophic’ safety risk

The enhanced shelter model, which the province said would be a “first” for Canada, is pet-friendly and also allows couples.

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Residents referred to the navigation centres will be able to bring their belongings and stay 24/7 until they secure longer-term housing.

San Francisco has eight navigation centres and the city said they’ve been successful in reducing unsheltered homelessness, and connecting people to the social services and housing help they need to stabilize their lives.

Fry said he’s confident the province and the City of Vancouver will deliver on their commitment.

“The weather’s obviously getting colder, damper we needed to have done this years ago but like let’s take the initiative now, let’s find ways to get it happening,” said Fry.