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April 10, 2020, Nanaimo City Council Update

Some reports, updates and thoughts from my week on Council.  Photo is of our champion public works crew and contractors working around the clock to repair a ruptured water main on Bowen Rd. last Saturday April 3rd.  They did amazing work.

Covid-19

The curve is flattening and there is a tone of tentative optimism in Dr. Bonnie Henry’s public addresses. Total number people infected with Covid-19 on the Island is 82 with 12 hospitalized. Up from 72 and 1o last week respectively. There is a decreasing rate of infection. It is also reported that cases are widely dispersed on the Island and there is evidence that local transmission is limited. Although the rate of infection seems to be slowing in BC and Island wide, this is not the case for other areas in the country and our neighbours to the south. It is still critical at this time to continue diligently with physical distancing measures and avoid relaxing our adherence to them over Easter. The last thing we need is a spike in infections right now when the situation on the Island is on an improving trend.

BC Parks has closed all provincial parks to discourage travelling throughout the region. Our local parks remain open as it is important for people to get out and exercise close to home while maintaining proper physical distancing. The Cdity of Nanaimo is going ahead with a Parks ambassador pilot program where city staff will be out in parks kindly reminding everyone to enjoy themselves while adhering to the public health advisories. Trudeau spoke today that public health measures to reduce the spread of the virus will be in place for a while, so at the moment we must get used to all this as the new normal.

British Columbia Ministry of Health
https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-feature/coronavirus-disease-covid-19

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html

Island Health
https://www.islandhealth.ca/learn-about-health/covid-19

Nanaimo City Council Business

Council met twice this week in addition to the Health and Housing Task force. We are turning our attention to keeping city business moving as best as possible and planning on how to best support community resilience through the pandemic for a strong economic recovery. Staff have completed detailed financial modelling that shows the city is in a strong financial position to weather a more prolonged shut down with the adjustments it has made to operations, capital projects and staffing.

Small businesses are getting hit hard as a result of Covid-19.  According to a survey completed by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, only 20 per cent of small businesses are fully open, 30 per cent do not have cash flow to pay April bills and 39 per cent are worried about permanent closure. This wednesday, Council extended the due date to pay city user rate utility bills from 30 to 90 days for bills issued after March 17 to provide some immediate financial relief to those economically impacted by Covid-19 .

We are taking an informed and measured approach that is working in concert with federal and provincial relief programs to maximize the support for the community and keep the long term property tax implications to a minimum. Decisions for council coming soon in terms of what the city can do to support financial relief for those impacted economically are around:

  • City facility leasing and rental relief
  • City Parking relief
  • Property tax deferment options
  • Grant distribution and additional grant pool options

Check out this presentation and this city press release for a more in-depth look at the city’s Financial Response and Recovery Framework.  Full agenda here.

 

Homelessness Covid-19 Response

I’m happy to report that additional modular washroom facilities were opened by the city to support individuals experiencing homelessness in response to the lack of services resulting from shutdowns of businesses and public facilities.  City Staff, BC housing, Island Health and community service providers have been working to ameliorate access to basic services and all met Wednesday at the City’s Health and Homeless Task force to further these discussions. A food security subcommittee was also established to address access to food.

The point in time count conducted in March counted 425 individuals experiencing homelessness on our streets, with an estimate that the real number is closer to 500.  80% of these individuals indicated they were struggling with substance abuse issues.    The added pressures on this group of vulnerable people as a result of the Corvid-19 outbreak has created conditions where all levels of government and related agencies must work closely together to provide a suitable response that will keep this group and the wider community safe and healthy.

Food Security

Covid-19 is having an impact on our food supply chains because of shutdowns, border issues and changes in the pattern of people’s purchasing habits. Some interesting articles to read on this front are below and food for thought in terms of putting increased attention to improving food security here on the Island:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/food-security-covid19-trudeau-1.5520492

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-food-producers-move-to-make-just-the-basics/

The city has clarified its position on how it will support the Island Roots Farmers Market at Beban going forward. Below is a summarized statement made by Mayor Krog during his Mayor’s address at our Council meeting Thursday April 9th:

“The City fully supports the farmers market and local food security.

The provincial health officer has clearly stated that outdoor markets are allowed at this moment of the Covid-19 Pandemic as long as they sell only food products and that there are measures in place to ensure proper hygiene and physical distancing.

Staff are willing and prepared to work with the farmers market when it wishes to proceed on site at Beban with an appropriate site/operational plan that would be acceptable to the Provincial authorities”

Finally, for those looking to get a home garden going, Milner is offering two yards of free topsoil for pick up at their 4202 Biggs Rd. facility Saturday, April 11 from 7 am to 5 pm  as a way to support and encourage those in isolation. You can then drop by the Nanaimo Community Garden Society Greenhouse in Beban Park next to the VIEx grounds to pick up vegetable starts to plant.

SafeSupply

Council had a lot of emails this week in response to the motion passed Monday night April 6th:

“That correspondence be sent to Hon. Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, reiterating the City of Nanaimo’s willingness to be a test site for innovative approaches to addressing mental health and addiction challenges.”

In the subsequent news article in the bulletin “test site for innovative approaches” was narrowed down to mean “be a pilot project for safely supplied drugs.” Although “safe supply” programs could be a part of a suite of innovative approaches, it is not the only one. Council is very far from making any decisions regarding the implementation of any such programs however, we have a drug addiction issue in this town that needs serious provincial investment.  Not only to help individuals suffering from addiction but also to deal with the unacceptable levels of crime associated to the property theft necessary to pay for the illegal drugs. Throwing tax payer money into law enforcement and correctional facilities has not helped the addiction and crime problem now or in the past. Im not into throwing good money after bad, and if the evidence in other jurisdictions shows that safe supply reduces crime and reduces addiction, it is an approach I’m willing to support the province in pursuing. Supporting a safe supply program does not mean in exclusion to all the other important components of a holistic approach.  A holistic approach is necessary and includes rapid access to detox, addiction treatment, housing and employment training. We need to really push for this holistic investment because as it stands right now, we are loosing a lot of our community’s money that could be more directly spent helping individuals who are suffering instead of burning up the cash in stolen property, policing, emergency medical response, multiple hospital stays, lost business, bylaw enforcement, shelter programs and revolving door corrections. Lets be pro-active and get more provincial investments in a suite of solutions that work!

Best,

Ben

Ben Geselbracht

Ben Geselbracht is a City Councillor in the City of Nanaimo, British Columbia.