Community : Nanaimo Design Labs
A series of Design Labs focused on health and housing were hosted in March 2020 by the City of Nanaimo’s Council-led Health and Housing Task Force, the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition, and United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island. The purpose of the labs was to develop innovative and practical approaches to address the growing number of people facing homelessness in Nanaimo.
The Design Labs were geared to engage with local people who have expertise and experience in specific topics related to health and housing. Over 200 participants weighed-in on how these critical social issues should be addressed, while developing ideas on how to improve the quality of life for all Nanaimo residents. The sessions explored ways that programs should be enhanced, existing resources leveraged and how service partners could integrate their responses to health, housing and homelessness.
What We Heard
Theme 1: Systems Integration, Access, Coordination, Navigation
Every lab raised the need for a coordinated, integrated, streamlined process to support people experiencing homelessness, mental health, and/or addictions issues, and more broadly, social assistance, rent support, employment, and wellbeing. The need to better navigate and have better access to a robust continuum of care — ranging from the built environment (wheelchairs, transit, washrooms, water stations, needle boxes, drop-in space), to rent/social assistance (barriers such as stigma/discrimination, affordable housing), to substance-use programming (detox facilities, intensive case management, psychiatric care, supported housing).
Theme 2: Public Awareness, Education, Social Inclusion
Participants called for better education around trauma/humanization of the homeless issue in Nanaimo, positive media stories, and more social inclusion opportunities, such as hiring people with lived experience to participate when stakeholders are designing policies and programs.
Theme 3: Wellbeing, Mental Health, Addictions
Participants pointed out that good mental health is more than the absence of a mental health condition, illness or addiction: it is a positive sense of wellbeing, or the capacity to enjoy life and deal with individual challenges. Community wellbeing was impacted by a number of factors:
- mobility/accessibility/ transportation challenges for people in need of intensive social services;
- lack of interagency coordination
- insufficient community/gathering spaces for social interaction;
- increasing income gap; and
- limited livable income employment,
- stress and poor mental health.
Theme 4: Community Safety, Legal/Justice Issues, Neighbourhood/Business Sector Solutions
Issues focused on systemic barriers (bylaws, access to services, policies), overuse of the criminal justice system (lack of diversion, restorative justice, stress/lack of resources for re-integration), community impacts (lack of hope leading to vigilante activity, people taking it into their own hands), sentencing not meeting clients needs (not allowing time to support with service needs), and a lack of resources in community to transition into or provide support. Connecting and establishing RCMP, VIHA, ACT team, CMHA, neighbourhood associations, block watch partnerships.
Theme 5: Poverty Reduction, Determinants of Health, Income, Employment and Education Supports.
Living in poverty can mean having fewer opportunities to fully participate in important day-to-day activities like work and education, and also experiencing poorer health than those who are better off. There is a need for more access to services (lack of family doctors, lack of community psychiatric care), and to stop the criminalization of poverty (sleeping in parkades; stealing food; punished for crimes of need).
Practical needs such as food banks/soup kitchens, a drop-in centre with showers and washrooms, rent supports, social assistance, and employment workshops to support people struggling came up in several labs.