Sep. 3, 2018

There's no quick fix to mental health and housing crisis


0807 - Demonstrating and protesting make for interesting political theatre but accomplish nothing to solve the problems of society.

Sunday’s little theatre pitted a foreign-born protest group against another group, mostly-local actors, flying the flag of communist Russia. Nothing was accomplished, nothing resulted and no solution was found to the problem of housing in Nanaimo. It was all about name-calling and placard waving. Great for media camera.

The tent encampment is not the issue, whether your are for against it or against it. It's a much bigger issue than that.

Where the real protests need to be is at city council meetings, calling a majority group of councillors to account for creating a large part of the housing problem. Council had millions of dollars in their lap to build about 40 housing units in the south end of the city. Council said “no thanks.”

Nanaimo MLA Len Krog had doubtlessly put in considerable effort to get that money from the province, but a small group of residents wanted to choose whom they would accept in their neighbourhood. The ones who were in line for that housing were not good enough to live in their midst.

When placard messages insist “housing is a right” where were they when council made that decision or when that neighbourhood rejected the poor and needy? “Housing, not hate” is another popular slogan.

This is not new – it happened less than a decade ago when the city got housing money from the province. City council at that time decided that such housing would be located throughout the community, with the first projects in downtown, mid-town and the north end. The South end was to get its share later on.

There was a push back from residents, especially in the north end, but council stuck to their guns and made it happen. More than 100 units were built and the sky did not fall.

As far as can be determined, the province is not standing by, waving a fistful of cash for Nanaimo to try it again. But, if that should happen we need a city council ready to step up to the plate and take action. 

Of note is that some of the vocal opponents of the most recent opportunity are now candidates for city council. That should worry all of us.

This type of sideline bickering between groups of citizens plays right into the hands of our elected officials – they sit back and do nothing, except maybe introduce another race-based tax or two, blaming investors for the real estate situation.

The crisis is much bigger than a few campsites and the blame can be laid at the feet of three provincial political parties. A major shift in philosophy took place a couple of decades ago when the Social Credit government introduced a plan to shut down mental health facilities and integrate patients “into the community.” The following NDP government carried through on that strategy, and the Liberals did nothing concrete to reverse that.

There was brief talk about reopening Riverview mental treatment facility, or part of it, but that raised the NIMBY syndrome again. A plan to raise money for the renewed hospital by selling part of the property for private housing got the NDP all riled up, accusing the Liberal of greasing a path “for their friends”. 

In the meantime, the mental health and housing situation continued to deteriorate.

The mental health crisis has reached epidemic proportions because of the rise in drug use, and it’s not going to get any better. What it will take is millions, if not billions of dollars, to really fix this problem. It will have to be a serious commitment by all parties. Involuntary committal to treatment will have to be part of the program. 

Simply providing housing for those in need won’t solve the problem. Governments need to do what it takes or accept that things will continue to get worse, with more and more tent encampments and rag tag agitators without any solutions. 

Present band aid solutions won’t stop the bleeding. It’s been a long time developing, and there are no instant fixes.