Community : Why is Homelessness Still a Crisis in Nanaimo?
One of the questions we hear the most is, “Why is homelessness getting worse? Can’t we just house everyone?” It’s a simple question with a complex answer.
Last month, data from Nanaimo’s Point-in-Time Homelessness Count was released, showing that the number of people facing homelessness has once again increased. We now have a minimum of 433 people (although it’s likely closer to 600) who are living without a home in Nanaimo.
Homelessness has been a hot topic issue for all levels of government over the last number of years and many investments have been made to build more shelters and supportive housing.
Nanaimo’s many dedicated service providers have received increased funding and are working day and night to help people facing homelessness. Yet, the crisis is still getting worse.
Paths into Homelessness
The answer to that question is crystal clear; the root causes of homelessness are not being addressed.
While the Government of Canada’s Housing First approach is important – every single human in this country deserves to sleep soundly with a roof over their head – we also need to address how people become homeless in the first place. It’s a deeply complex issue, and we are learning more about it every year.
The National Point-in-Time Homeless Count asked a question about foster care for the very first time this year. We learned that in Nanaimo 39% of people who had been in foster care were homeless within five years or less of aging out of the system. That’s almost half.
This statistic tells us there is a major issue with the foster care system. Youth are aging out of the foster care system without the support they need to thrive and are at a significantly increased risk of facing homelessness.
We also learned from the 2020 Nanaimo Point-in-Time Homeless Count that 24% of people facing homelessness have an acquired brain injury. An acquired brain injury can result in long-term impacts that can severely affect a person’s ability to function in society. Symptoms can range from migraines and depression to changes in personality and increased aggression.
Research shows that there is a strong correlation between a traumatic brain injury and a person’s ability to hold a job.
Learn more about the impacts of acquired brain injury and how the Nanaimo Brain Injury Society is helping.
There is also a strong connection between education levels and homelessness. In Nanaimo only 57% of our homeless population has completed high school or higher, including the trades. That means that 43% of the people facing homelessness never even had the chance to graduate and seek a stable career path.
For comparison, the Canadian high school completion rate is about 77% and the BC rate is 86%.
Locally, the high school completion rate for Nanaimo is 71.7% for all students and 62.5% for Indigenous students. As a city, we have lower than average graduation rates.
Data shows that individuals without a formal education are at a higher risk of unemployment and thus a higher risk of homelessness, and youth facing homelessness are often forced to leave the education system in order to survive.
Time to Take Action – speak with your elected officials
We’ve offered three examples of paths into homelessness but there are many, many more; and with the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy, it remains to be seen how many more people will lose the roof over their head.
The Nanaimo Homeless Coalition is continuing to work on the ground level, collaborating with the City’s Health & Housing Task Force to develop a new 5-year strategy, and ensuring the implementation of a Coordinated Access System to help ease the strain on the current system.
But what we really need is for every member of the public to let our elected leaders know that more action is needed. We have an important election coming our way, so before October 24th, find out where the candidates stand on homelessness and ask questions about how they plan to address the root causes of homelessness. Without this, we can only expect to see the number of people facing homelessness continue to grow.
Kathleen Jones, B.C. Liberal Party
Sheila Malcolmson, B.C. NDP
Lia Versaevel, B.C. Green Party
Chris Istace, B.C. Greens
Duck (Don) Paterson, B.C. Liberals
Doug Routley, B.C. NDP
Rob Lyon, B.C. Greens
Don Purdey, Conservatives
John St. John, Independent
Michelle Stilwell, B.C. Liberals
Adam Walker, B.C. NDP