A program that offered a safe space and services for Nelson’s homeless will shut down its location in March due to a drop in funding.
The Coordinated Access Hub, located at 521 Vernon St., opened in July 2021 and offers a range of services including an episodic overdose prevention site, access to various health resources, an employment program and housing assistance. It also serves as a warm refuge where visitors can use a computer, make art, eat a snack and relax.
But on Jan. 30, the Nelson Committee on Homelessness (NCOH) said it will be forced to close the Hub due to the end of a grant from the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) as well as a decrease in federal funding.
Joyce Dahms-Whiffen, a member of NCOH and program director with Nelson Community Services, said the program had been given a boost by additional funding during the COVID-19 pandemic that is no longer available.
“We knew that eventually the [federal] government, once we got through COVID, would start to claw back on the extra programming, which they’re doing. So we were using that time to try to find other sources, and unfortunately nothing has come up.”
The Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy program operated by Infrastructure Canada included Nelson as one of 60 communities to receive a share of $4 billion in funding from its start in April 2019 through 2027-2028.
Nelson’s program was funded $3 million from April 2019 to March 2024, and received an additional $100,000 to assist with unsheltered homelessness this winter.
Dahms-Whiffen said NCOH funding for the current fiscal year is $646,947, but that will drop 10 per cent to $582,253 as of April 1. It will also no longer have access to a two-year grant from UBCM that provided $220,000 annually.
Infrastructure Canada has still committed $1,164,506 total for next two fiscal years to NCOH. A spokesperson told the Nelson Star it will also hold talks on extended funding for 2026-27 and 2027-28 at a later date.
Dahms-Whiffen said funding will continue to be used on the six programs that were run out of the Hub. Those included Nelson Street Outreach, a safe injection site operated by ANKORS, and a food bag program run by Nelson Community Food Centre.
But the site itself, which cost $400,000 annually to operate, has to be shut down. She said staff are searching for an alternative space, but conceded rents are high in Nelson and options are few.
“That space did work,” she said. “It was central to the downtown. Was it perfect? No. But we’ll certainly continue to look for pockets of funding. … We believe really strongly that the Hub is an awesome model that what’s needed in our community.”
Dahms-Whiffen said the Hub was the culmination of a long-term vision for what she described as a one-stop shop for community services. It was well received by clients, but she admitted there was mixed reception from community neighbours and businesses that her team had worked to address.
She’s concerned now what will happen to residents who made the Hub their home.
“These are some of our most vulnerable citizens who come in and gain service. So if they don’t have a place to go and become stabilized, they’re going to be on the street, they’re going to be in the doorways of people’s businesses again.
“I strongly believe that as a community we’re only as healthy as all our citizens. So I think we have to make sure that everyone has a warm place to be and food and supports.”