Many individuals in our community suffer from trauma: the lasting emotional response from living through deeply distressing events. And many member organizations of Nanaimo Homeless Coalition engage in a strengths-based approach to service delivery. They use trauma-informed practice and care to support and improve the well-being of individuals.

The service system can be overwhelming. It can re-traumatize individuals affecting their willingness to participate and engage. This is why trauma-informed practice is so important. Safety, trustworthiness and partnerships are the key to promoting healing. Trauma-informed practice means being committed to collective learning and action, committed to a culture of learning together.

What is being ‘trauma aware’?

Trauma-informed practice integrates an understanding of past and current experiences of violence and trauma into all aspects of service delivery.

Being ‘trauma aware’ means that service providers understand that trauma has affected many in our community. With this, they recognize the wide range of responses and adaptations that individuals make to cope with their trauma. For example, individuals may have difficulty building relationships, they may miss appointments and they may distrust authority figures.

The goal of trauma-informed practices is to avoid re-traumatizing individuals as they work towards healing. There are five guiding principles for how service providers work to reduce the chance of re-traumatization: safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness and empowerment

Ensuring an individual’s physical, emotional and spiritual safety is the first important step of trauma-informed practice. This is the foundation of building strong, trustworthy relationships between service providers and individuals.

Creating opportunities for choice, collaboration and connection with individuals is important. When an individual has choice and control of their service experience, they’ll be more likely to participate and the services will be more effective.

Trustworthiness is built in the establishment and consistency of boundaries with service providers.  Building trust includes ongoing clear communication about what is expected of the individual, and consistent checking in with clients. Trauma-informed practice meets clients where they are at without agenda, timelines and expectations.

Finally, empowerment focuses on an individual’s strengths and encourages them to build on those strengths to promote resiliency and coping skills. Building these skills and confidence can help individuals manage triggers of trauma and support their ongoing healing.

Trauma-informed practices are sensitive to trauma in all aspects of service delivery and are concerned with the individual’s safety and empowerment. Service providers work towards trust, connection, collaboration and empowerment of individuals on their path to healing.

It’s difficult to change our behaviour, even if it harms us. But why?

Change ignites fear, intimidation and resistance within us. We fear rejection, loss or failure. Successful behaviour change takes an immense amount of time, courage, emotion and effort.

The Stages of Change, also known as the “transtheoretical model”, is a means of examining the various stages that we go through while working to change our behaviour. The model was developed by Prochaska and DiClemente as they studied how people went about changing problem behaviours such as smoking, overeating and problem drinking.

The steps of the Stages of Change are dynamic. Moving between stages is normal. Think of the stages of grief – everyone experiences grief differently. Most people will go through the various stages of change many times before they’re able to successfully make a positive, permanent change.


  1. Pre-contemplation (not ready)
    During this stage there is no intention to change behaviour. Many people don’t see their behaviour as a problem. They might not understand, or they might be in denial.
  2. Contemplation (getting ready)
    During this stage people become aware that a problem exists. They’re seriously thinking about changing behaviour but haven’t committed to it.
  3. Preparation (ready)
    The preparation stage is the beginning of exploration; the information gathering stage. People start researching and/or relying on their support systems for guidance. People in this stage want to take action soon.
  4. Action (current action)
    This is the action moment of change, where people modify their behaviour, experiences or environment to overcome their problematic behaviour. This stage requires considerable commitment of time, energy and emotion.
  5. Maintenance (monitoring)
    During this stage, people stick to the new action over time. Here, the goal is to prevent relapse and form new habits.
  6. Termination
    At this stage the new behaviour is ingrained and habitual. There is no desire to return to past negative behaviours. Reaching this stage is incredibly rare, particularly with addictive behaviours. It’s likely most people will remain at stage 5: consistent maintenance.

In most meaningful behavioural change, there will be relapses. Don’t give up. The Stages of Change is a spiral model. People trying to change usually fluctuate between stages, rather than consistently progress.

Naturally, this is frustrating for the person trying to change. But progress isn’t linear, and relapse isn’t failure. We must recognize the setback as a lapse that can be overcome, and take action to correct the behaviour as soon as possible.

There is no doubt that Nanaimo is facing a homelessness crisis. The numbers from the last three Point-in-Time Homeless Counts all trended upwards, showing an increasing number of people living on the streets, despite government funding for services, shelters and social housing. 

To better understand where the population of people facing homelessness is coming from, we looked at the overall demand estimates for affordable housing in Nanaimo. A deep dive into who’s impacted by homelessness showed that 6000 people are at risk of falling into homelessness, while an astounding 1,885 are already facing homelessness. We also know that people experiencing homelessness in Nanaimo are from Nanaimo. 71.2% have lived here for more than five years and initially moved to Nanaimo for the same reasons as everyone else: work, school and family.

As part of the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition and United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island’s work with the City’s Health & Housing Task Force to develop a new five-year strategy to address homelessness, we wanted to understand why our community is so at risk. 

A Growing Community

Approaching 100,000. Nanaimo has seen steady population growth and is expected to reach almost 100,000 people over the next five years. An increased population in an urban area means increased social challenges on resources that are already under pressure; particularly housing affordability/homelessness, population health, poverty, and strains on existing infrastructure.

Local economy. Nanaimo’s diverse economy is driven by finance and insurance, real estate, and professional scientific technical and educational services, and seeing steady growth, however, Nanaimo continues to experience high unemployment rates, currently at 6.2%.

More seniors. The proportion of Nanaimo residents aged 65 years of age or older is 23%, and over the next five years this percentage is expected to rise, placing higher demands on housing and health services. Seniors are often priced out of affordable rental housing and are in need of accessible housing that allows them to age in place

Basic Needs

Poverty and deprivation. In 2015, 17% of Nanaimo households were low-income. Residents in Nanaimo have higher levels of economic dependency and situational vulnerability according to the Canadian Index of Multiple Deprivation.

Housing unaffordability. In December 2019, the MLS® Home Price Index (HPI) benchmark price for single family homes in Nanaimo was $562,000. This is a 65% increase over five years. Average rent has increased by 27.5% over the same period. Renters living alone, lone parents, Indigenous people, and recent immigrants are having higher affordability challenges.

COVID-19 Impacts. Self-isolation and proper hygiene is difficult for the homeless populations. Shelters have had to reduce capacity to ensure physical distancing during COVID-19, and food services across the region have shut down or reduced services to allow for extra precautions to help stop the spread of the virus.

Children, Youth, Families

Early Childhood Development, designed to measure children’s development in kindergarten, indicates higher vulnerabilities. For the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District, the proportion of vulnerable children is higher in all areas compared to the province, except for communication. Vulnerable children are more likely to be limited in their development compared to a non-vulnerable child. 

High school completion below provincial par. Secondary school completion and transition to post-secondary is important to the development of a skilled labour force. In 2018-19, completion rates in the District were below the provincial average of 83%, with 76% of completion rate among all students, 69% of Indigenous students, and 61% of students with special needs. 

Lone parents above provincial average. At 17% Nanaimo is home to a higher-than-the provincial average (15%) of families led by a lone parent. Four out of five families led by a lone parent are women, which is a pattern consistent across the entire province.

Community Health 

Lower life expectancy. Life expectancy in Nanaimo Local Health Area (LHA) is 1.3 years lower than the provincial average. Chronic disease rates for Asthma and COPD are also higher in Nanaimo LHA. 

The Potential Years of Life Lost (PYLL) Index. This estimates the number of years of life ‘lost’ to early deaths: alcohol and smoking-related deaths in the Nanaimo LHA are 61% and 26% higher than the provincial average, respectively.

Drug overdose and emergencies: There were 30 unintentional illicit drug toxicity deaths in Nanaimo (accidental and undetermined) that occurred between January 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020, inclusive. This is an 11% increase from 2019.

Public Safety

Demands for police are up. Crime severity has been steadily increasing over the past five years in Nanaimo (CSI = 118) growing at a much faster rate than the province as a whole (CSI = 87.7). The Crime Severity Index (CSI) measures changes in the level of severity of crime in Canada from year to year. 

Domestic violence continues to be a community concern. Nanaimo RCMP responded to 584 calls in 2019.

Core Housing Need

Rates of core housing need are increasing. A household is in Core Housing Need (CHN) if it experiences one or a combination of three housing issues: inadequacy, unsuitability, and/or unaffordability. In Nanaimo, 5,255 households are in CHN (13.9% of households). Comparatively, BC has a CHN rate of 14.9%, and Canada, a CHN rate of 12.7%.

Renters are struggling. Renter households with only one income-earner face significantly greater rates of CHN, with lone-parent females (56%) and lone senior females (56%) and males (47%) having the highest rates. Rates of CHN are also notably higher among Indigenous and newcomer households.

For more information on the actions underway to address homelessness in Nanaimo, visit

Yesterday’s fire at the cluster of tents on Wesley Street and subsequent displacement of individuals sheltering at the location highlights the extreme need for housing and long term solutions for people experiencing homelessness in Nanaimo.

Now more then ever, we need to work together with all levels of government to find long term solutions. For years, Nanaimo Homeless Coalition has been calling for adequate investment in housing so that people aren’t homeless. Through this year’s Point-in-Time count we know there are at least 433 people absolutely homeless – but it’s likely closer to 600. Furthermore, an estimated 6000 people are living on the edge of homelessness in Nanaimo. This fire is one example of how dangerous it is when someone is forced to live on the street.

The Nanaimo Homeless Coalition members and other local service providers are working hard to help those displaced in whatever means they can with the resources available. The community, unfortunately, does not yet have enough housing, shelter spaces and warming spaces for our community members who are struggling with homelessness.

Direct service providers and the Coalition are looking to meet with the City and others as soon as possible for a full de-brief on developments this week and what the plan is for those who were impacted by the fire.

The City of Nanaimo’s Health and Housing Task Force, which includes members of the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition, is set to give its recommendations to the City in the next few weeks. This will be a crucial opportunity for governments to step up and actively support solutions and be proactive for the ever-growing need.

Yvonne Borrows, Nanaimo Homeless Coalition co-chair
Jason Harrison, Nanaimo Homeless Coalition co-chair