Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder.

The Regional District of Nanaimo board does not want to introduce a social planning service.

After receiving the 255-page social needs assessment and strategy completed with funds from a Union of BC Municipalities grant, the board voted against proceeding with staff writing a report on creating a regional social planning service.

Integrated with other planning functions, social planning brings together governments, community members, non-profit agencies and other stakeholders to improve well-being and quality of life for residents. Issues addressed can include housing, accessibility and inclusion, child care, youth services, food security, substance abuse and others.

During the debate following the motion introduced by Electoral Area B Director Vanessa Craig, opposed directors stated disinterest in the RDN taking a leadership role in social planning and argued most issues related to poverty were the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments.

“I’m not convinced a social planning function will bring value,” Chair Tyler Brown said.

The staff report accompanying the strategy warned the strategy’s full potential could only be realized with the development of a regional social planning service.

“We are not proposing to jump into provincial health or federal housing but to try and do some systematic change and assist with projects,” Kim Fowler, manager of long range planning, sustainability and energy; said in response to directors’ questions.

Craig is “disappointed that the board declined to follow up some of the recommendations contained in the social needs assessment,” but intends to bring recommendations forward at the committee level, as board discussion suggested directors may find that a more favourable venue.

Development of the social needs assessment and strategy was a partnership between the RDN, Nanaimo, Qualicum Beach, Lantzville and the Gabriola Island Local Trust Committee. Community health networks, including the Gabriola Health and Wellness Collaborative contributed as did community representatives from Snuneymuxw, Snaw-Naw-As and Qualicum First Nations.

The strategy focused on programs for families, youth and children; special supports and services; discrimination and stigma; access to health and affordable food; safe and affordable transportation; and access to housing and reducing homelessness.

It sets out with three regional goals for 2024: reduce both the proportion of people living in a low-income household and the proportion of renters spending more than 30 per cent of their income on housing by 25 per cent and reduce the proportion of children with vulnerability scores on the Early Development Instrument by 50 per cent.

Local health area profiles indicate the RDN has a higher proportion of residents living in need compared to Island Health or BC overall.

Data gathered in the development of the strategy highlighted housing, childcare, income supports, employment opportunities, access to mental health care, and access to child and youth developmental supports as areas of critical need.

Gabriola and the other electoral areas and Qualicum Beach in particular identified child and youth care programs, supportive housing and health care as unavailable, limited or unaffordable as well as transportation to urban centres.

The final strategy recommends a systems-level approach and offers eight recommendations as well as five core practices to improve collaboration.

The recommendations are a framework for taking a leadership and coordinating role, the report says, “something identified as missing in the region.”

The recommendations include hiring a social planner, amplifying community health networks’ role, integrating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action in the strategy implementation, adopting social planning as a core practice and establishing an accountability structure to monitor and track progress.

“The health and wellness of one community is not isolated from the health and wellness of the others,” the strategy concludes. “A regional plan to address social needs requires an understanding of this interconnection and must bring communities together.”

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