Homelessness Crisis in Nanaimo: Why is our Community at Risk?

Dec 2020 | Homelessness

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 the homelessness crisis 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 the homelessness crisis, 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. The 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 the homelessness crisis in Nanaimo, visit nanaimohomelesscoalition.ca

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