ACAWS is located on Upper Third Avenue. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

ACAWS to operate new transition housing in Port Alberni

20 units of second-stage housing will provide supports for women and children fleeing violence

Port Alberni will be one of 12 communities across the province set to benefit from new supportive housing for women and children fleeing violence.

Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser welcomed the announcement on Thursday, Oct. 25.

“For far too long, women and children fleeing violence found themselves without a safe place to go,” he said in a press release. “Our government is making the first major investment in transition housing in 20 years. This new housing will provide women and children escaping violence in our community a welcoming and safe space to start healing and rebuilding their lives.”

In a later interview, Fraser said that Alberni Community and Women’s Services Society (ACAWS) will operate up to 20 units of second-stage housing, which provides safe, short-term housing and supports for women after they leave an abusive relationship or situation.

“[ACAWS] is a very strong advocacy group that has already been helping,” said Fraser. “They were the recommended body to help deliver these services.”

ACAWS operates the Port Alberni Transition House, which has 12 beds for women and children at risk to stay for up to 30 days. In the 2017-18 fiscal year, the Port Alberni Transition House provided 1,737 nights of bed stays for women and children at risk, according to ACAWS.

In these new housing units, women will be able to stay for six to 18 months as they prepare to transition to more permanent homes.

At this point, the timeline for supportive housing units is not known, although Fraser said he is “confident” that it will happen soon.

“We’ll work closely with ACAWS to get this done as quickly as possible,” he added.

ACAWS executive director Ellen Frood said the society does have a “preliminary rendering” made by an architect, but the when and where has not been determined. “The next stage is to have some conversations,” she said. “There’s a huge planning curve that goes forward at the next step.”

When the province announced that funding would be available, Frood said that ACAWS “seized the opportunity” with an expression of interest and ended up with the successful bid.

“We have a very good relationship with BC Housing,” she said. “We’ve been operating the transition house here since 1981. They know we can manage another project. We have all the supports in place.”

The Alberni Valley Community Foundation’s Vital Signs report shows the need for supportive housing for women, said Fraser. In 2017, the sexual assault rate in the Alberni Valley was 115.5 per 100,000 people, according to a survey from Statistics Canada—almost double the provincial average. It is noted in the Vital Signs report that the majority of sexual assaults are not reported.

But Frood doesn’t see this as all bad news. “The number is definitely higher in Port Alberni,” she said. “But I believe one of the reasons is that women are more willing to come forward because we have services for them. I think they feel more comfortable coming forward because they feel supported.

“That we can help people, that is good news.”

The 12 supportive housing projects announced last week are the first step in the provincial government’s new Building BC: Women’s Transition Housing Fund, a $734 million investment over 10 years to build 1,500 transition, second-stage and affordable housing spaces for women and children fleeing violence.

This is just another piece of the housing crisis, said Fraser. Earlier this year, a supportive housing project was announced for Port Alberni, with 24/7 counselling, medical and life services for those in need. The modular units are currently under construction.

“This is the next step of helping women and children at risk,” said Fraser on Thursday.

If you are in need of assistance or a safe place, please reach out to ACAWS at 250-724-7111 or www.acaws.ca.

elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

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