One of the major puzzle pieces of the city's homeless strategy fell into place Wednesday as officials broke ground on a new supportive housing project at 6025 Uplands Drive.
But there is still deep-rooted anger from some residents living near the site who object to the project's close proximity.
The $7.3-million project is expected to be completed by fall of next year, and is situated on city-owned land, which the municipality agreed to provide as part of a memorandum of understanding with the B.C. Housing Management Commission in 2008. The facility will be run by the non-profit Pacifica Housing Advisory Association and will provide supportive housing for people 45 and older who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Originally intended to be built in the Dufferin neighbourhood, city council approved the Uplands site at an in-camera meeting, a decision that enraged many in the community.
Bill Inglis was one of the project's most outspoken critics. He and others formed the Concerned Citizens of Nanaimo group, which highlighted the issue in the 2011 city election.
"I think around here anyway in our complex, people are a little surprised it's going ahead without any controversy," said Inglis, who resides in the subdivision across the street.
"I'm still angry at the city for jamming this through without proper consultation," he added.
But Inglis said he and other residents are now taking a 'wait-andsee' approach to the development, which has won over support from the adjacent Seniors Village.
Inglis said he also appreciates the efforts of Pacifica executive director Karyn French, who has worked to tweak the proposal.
"I have a lot of respect for her and I think she has done as much as she possibly can to appease the neighbours and get as much space for the project as the province wants," Inglis said.
But fellow nearby resident Lance Butler says the project does not fit with the neighbourhood, citing safety concerns for elderly residents in the area.
"It's not a good mix, and they're trying to put this activity in a neighbourhood that's already established," he said.
But another resident, who asked that her name not be used, said there are many in support of the project, despite vocal opposition from some who live nearby. A former Vancouver resident, she said she has lived near similar facilities before.
"People have to live someplace," she said. "And housing, getting people off the streets, is a step up."
Nanaimo social planner John Horn said the site was selected based on a variety of criteria, including easy access to buses and services. Once the Uplands project is complete, Horn said the city will "take stock" of how the facility and two others supported by the city - a completed facility on Wesley Street and another project slated to go ahead on Boundary Crescent - have impacted homeless levels in Nanaimo.
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